US Surgeon General urges Americans to 'stop buying masks'

The tweet comes after online stores were flooded with requests for the N95 mask.
The tweet comes after online stores were flooded with requests for the N95 mask. Photo credit: Getty.

The United States' Surgeon General is urging Americans to stop buying masks, as the coronavirus epidemic spreads.

"Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS!" Jerome Adams tweeted on Saturday. 

"They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!"

The US recorded its first death from the virus, known as COVID-19, on Sunday (NZ time).

Adams said the best way to protect yourself and your community is with everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water.

The tweet comes after online stores were flooded with requests for the N95 mask. 

N95 masks are used by health workers to prevent the spread of the virus.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the masks need to be prioritised for doctors and nurses. 

"There is no role for these masks in the community," he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday. 

"These masks need to be prioritised for health care professionals that as part of their job are taking care of individuals."

Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the lack of masks during a White House press briefing on Saturday. 

Pence has been appointed by US President Donald Trump to coordinate the US response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Pence said the administration would have "40 million masks available today".

But despite the Surgeon General's plea, people are questioning his advice. 

"Are you seriously the US Surgeon General? As a medical professional, I agree with you, but this is the most unprofessional piece of public communication I've seen since the last time I visited Trump's page. You have a responsibility to at least appear credible," said one person.

"What I really want to know is why this administration isn’t better prepared? Not having enough of a simple medical device, like mask availability, for healthcare workers is incompetence," another person wrote.

While one Twitter user questioned the way the post was written.

"Seriously, Surgeon General! Is a teenage intern running your Twitter account?"