As coronavirus cases pop up in US, so does a pop-up shop selling masks, hand sanitizer

Adilisha Patrom has opened a pop-up shop in Washington, DC to sell coronavirus-related supplies including hand sanitizer and masks. USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – If you're just stopping in for information, Adilisha Patrom is OK with that. 

If you ran out of hand sanitizer, she's got a few extra. One customer didn't bring cash and her pop-up shop hasn't been open long enough to accept cards, so she tried to give him a travel-size bottle.

On a street corner in northeast Washington, this small storefront is also selling face masks and care packages while handing out flyers with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as fears grow around the spread of the new coronavirus.

Patrom, 29, is well aware no cases have affected D.C. yet. (Update, 3/8: the virus appeared in Washington, D.C, over the weekend.) Maryland announced its first three cases on Thursday. And she knows that the CDC is not recommending people who are otherwise healthy to wear face masks. Still, she wants her neighbors to be prepared.

"We need to be in a mindset that we can be proactive about what it is that we do, rather than react to what's going on around us, because then you have people freaking out. That's when you have people breaking into stores," Patrom told USA TODAY.

"I don't want this to make people panic, but I want people to question, 'What is going on around me that I don't know about?'"

Patrom operates one of the country's first shops, if not the first, dedicated solely to selling supplies aimed at combating the virus that causes COVID-19.

Her coronavirus pop-up shop has been open for less than a week, and she's sold about three face masks. They go for $5 to $30, and care packages include multiple kinds of supplies. One has goggles, another contains a surgical mask with a visor attached.

Around the country, brick-and-mortar stores have sold out of similar supplies like face masks and hand sanitizer, and online retailers have seen exorbitant markups

It's this kind of reaction that federal health officials have worked to balance as they warn the public to take the necessary precautions to prevent the virus' spread while not trying to stir up unnecessary worry or cause people to take unnecessary measures.

Surgical masks don't protect the wearers from respiratory illnesses, health officials say. N95 respirators, the heavier duty masks worn by Patrom, also aren't guaranteed protection. They're made of denser materials and can filter out the Ebola virus and measles. But that mask works best when it’s professionally fitted.

GM America. Want to know more on masks? 😷

Surgical masks don’t provide YOU respiratory protection against diseases like #Coronavirus. They protect others from YOUR cough.

N95 masks require special “fit” testing. Wearing improperly can lead to ⬆️ face touching, & ⬆️ risk!

— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) March 3, 2020

Outside Patrom's pop-up, large signs with a person wearing a face mask are displayed and inform those walking by that the products are "sold here." A bin holding flyers from the CDC is at the door.

Patrom knows some may be trying to profit off increased concerns around the virus and assume the same for her. She admits she not an expert on the virus and points people to the CDC for information.

"There's a lot of people that are like, 'I'm about to make money off this corona,' and it's like, 'No.' ... That's not what this is."

Still, "as a business person, the overhead has to be taken care of," Patrom said.

Next door, she owns a hair extension showroom. The space the coronavirus pop-up shop now occupies is typically used as a co-working space and filled with small businesses on the weekend. The coronavirus store aims to draws customers during the week, Patrom said.

The idea for the store came as Patrom's father was diagnosed with cancer in November. He wanted an N95 respirator and so did she, so she bought a few online and from Home Depot.

In January, she started to become more concerned about coronavirus. When she had the idea to use the pop-up space to sell supplies, she said she got in contact with a distributor in New York.

Patrom said she hopes more shops like hers pop up.

"Imagine if the government had ten or 20 of these little hubs where people could come get education and resources. How much more effective – you don't have people traveling as much. ... You can keep people local," she said.

Contributing: Anne Saker, Cincinnati Enquirer

Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller


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