March 4, 2020 By Allie Griffin
The City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) has made it illegal for retailers to sell medical face masks at drastically increased prices after the masks have become in high demand over fears of the coronavirus spreading.
Despite health officials’ advice for healthy individuals to forgo the masks altogether, there is a shortage of the products as people try to protect themselves from the novel virus called COVID-19.
DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas declared the shortage today and said that stores charging customers an excessive amount for face masks will be issued a violation with a fine up to $500. The new policy takes effect tomorrow.
Salas said she personally visited a store last weekend after hearing reports of overcharging and was charged $212 for a box of 10 masks, “which is astronomical,” she said.
“Preying on people who are concerned for the health of themselves and their loved ones for a profit will not be tolerated in NYC, ” the Commissioner added. “As we started to see empty shelves and more stores charging hundreds of dollars, we knew the City had to step in to prevent price gouging.”
The department will be cracking down on attempted price gouging of face masks for a 30 day period, with the potential to extend it further.
DCWP encourages consumers who are overcharged to file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp or by contacting 311.
Queens Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation to double down on price gouging of face masks, hand sanitizer and other medical supplies today as well.
The legislation defines a drastic increase as a price hike of more than 10 percent. It would prohibit stores from raising prices on consumer medical supplies — like face masks, hand sanitizer and over-the-counter medications —during a public health crisis by more than 10 percent of their original prices.
The legislation would also empower the New York Attorney General to fine businesses proven to have participated in price gouging up to $25,000.
There are currently 11 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in New York state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from coronavirus or other respiratory diseases.
Instead, people who show symptoms of COVID-19 should wear one to help prevent the spread of the disease to others should wear one — as well as health care workers or those caring for someone infected.