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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane-area stores striving to keep face masks in stock

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 5, 2017

"I've had a headache for two days now," said Debbie Sims as she walked through a smokey downtown Spokane on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
"I've had a headache for two days now," said Debbie Sims as she walked through a smokey downtown Spokane on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Paul W. Smith The Spokesman-Review

Your neighbor was wearing one while mowing the lawn Sunday, and you saw another on the driver in the car next to you on Monday morning’s commute.

Smart people are wearing face masks across Eastern Washington, the mode du jour in a region blanketed by wildfire smoke that isn’t expected to lift until later this week.

It seems the white, gauze-like facial air filters are nearly everywhere, except maybe in some local stores. Supplies of the masks have been depleted at merchants big and small, with those experiencing shortages Monday having already placed orders for fresh supplies.

At the Home Depot in north Spokane at 9116 N. Newport Highway, assistant store manager Marti Sadowski said a stream of mask-seeking customers hit once the store opened Monday.

“We kind of noticed it yesterday, but today has been a larger influx of people,” she said late Monday morning when the store had a “fair amount” of masks remaining.

“We’re trying to rush to get more in stock.”

Home Depot was among many bent on meeting demand for the masks during a health emergency – especially for those people with respiratory concerns – and taking steps to maintain an adequate mask supply through the week.

With its stock of five or so face masks not lasting long after opening Monday, family owned Peter’s Hardware in Spokane Valley already had ordered more by midday. Employee Jared McIntire said the store at 121189 E. Sprague Ave. should have four to six 12-mask cases in by end of business today.

The Washington state Department of Health lists several steps to take to avoid the small particles and carbon monoxide in wildfire smoke – the primary defense being to stay indoors, with windows closed and air conditioning set to use recirculated air, when possible.

For those who must venture out, the health department’s website says face masks labeled N95 or N100 can filter out fine particles in wildfire smoke; hazardous gases, such as the carbon monoxide found in the smoke, still can pass through. Masks with these ratings can be found at most hardware and home-repair stores, and pharmacies.

That wasn’t the case late in the day at the Walgreen’s at 2830 S. Grand Blvd. on Spokane’s South Hill, where assistant manager Damien Logwood said the store’s “full stock” of masks was gone by midafternoon. “Actually, today was the first day we had a lot of people asking for them,” he said. “We had 36 of them to begin with.”

The store had 70 masks on order, Logwood said, “so they’re sure to stick around over the weekend.”

With wildfires and their smoke a perennial presence in the area, Zane Denison said, Lowe’s ensures its stores in the West are well-stocked with face masks this time of year. The manager of the Lowe’s at 5204 E. Sprague Ave. said the company has “emergency command centers” to help stores meet the needs of customers during natural emergencies, be it western wildfires or Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Those that supply the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area Lowe’s are sending enough masks to keep store quantities up for the next couple of weeks, Denison said.

“As of this morning, all the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene were still pretty well stocked up” he said Monday afternoon.

Denison said that also was the case for furnace filters, which also have been in greater demand as homeowners look to change old, clogged filters or upgrade to filters of a high enough grade to separate particulates from inbound smoke-filled air flowing through air-conditioning units.

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