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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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A woman wears a protective mask in New York City on Jan. 23, amid mounting fears about the spread of coronavirus. Credit: Timothy A. Clary/Getty Contributor

Despite reassurances from public health officials that Americans don't currently need to wear face masks as a precaution against coronavirus, many drug stores are selling out.

Why it matters: While it's not clear how much protection the masks offer, manufacturers are seeing a spike in demand, and the potential spread of the virus in the U.S. is being monitored closely — and spooking out a lot of people.

Where it stands: There are severe shortages of surgical face masks in China, where people are being encouraged to wear them. While there have only been a handful of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., people aren't taking any chances.

  • Stores are selling out of face masks in cities like Chicago and New York, as well as in California and other places.
  • "The biggest thing I’m seeing is people buying them to send them back to China,” one Manhattan pharmacist told the New York Post.
  • There was a similar run on face masks in the U.S. in 2009, when the H1N1 virus hit.

But, but, but: So far, the Department of Health and Human Services says there's no need for Americans to panic. While coronavirus "poses a very serious public health threat, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time," an HHS spokesperson tells Axios.

  • "However, we fully expect that in the coming days and weeks, we will see more cases of this new coronavirus here in the United States and globally," HHS said.
  • The agency's Strategic National Stockpile "holds millions of face masks as well as N95 respirators that could be used if needed in responding to a public health emergency when local supplies are exhausted and aren’t available from commercial suppliers," HHS said.
  • "We also have medical teams, along with their equipment and supplies, ready if needed to augment local healthcare resources in an emergency response."

Nevertheless, "Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is asking Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to declare a public health emergency to free up money for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to battle the virus before it becomes an American pandemic." ABC News reports.

What they're saying: U.S. manufacturers and distributors of face masks are being circumspect about the situation. Of the half-dozen contacted by Axios about whether they were ramping up production or seeing big increases in orders, some declined to comment and others gave tight-lipped responses.

  • "We’ve seen a recent increase in demand for masks through our dental and medical distribution business in Asia and in the United States," said a spokeswoman for Henry Schein, a medical supplier based in Long Island. "We are actively engaged and monitoring the situation with our manufacturing partners to anticipate and meet customer needs."
  • Medline Industries, a giant, Illinois-based healthcare supplier: "We are prepared to ramp up capacity of relevant products should the CDC issue actionable recommendations."
  • Medline also noted: "At this time, the CDC has only released interim recommendations for preparing to deal with the impact of the coronavirus."

The bottom line: People are masking up, but it's still a wait-and-see situation that everyone's monitoring closely.

Go deeper

Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at 93

Walter Mondale, left, with former President Jimmy Carter in Jan. 2018 at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota's campus in Minneapolis. Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Walter Mondale, who transformed the role of U.S. vice president while serving under Jimmy Carter and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984, died Monday at 93, according to a family spokesperson.

The big picture: President Biden, who was mentored by Mondale through the years, said in 2015 that the former vice president gave him a "roadmap" to successfully take on the job.

White House removes Trump-appointed scientist from overseeing climate report

U.S. President Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has removed Trump-appointed atmospheric scientist Betsy Weatherhead from her role overseeing a comprehensive report on how climate change is affecting the U.S., the Washington Post first reported Monday.

Why it matters: Weatherhead has not been fired — merely reassigned to the U.S. Geological Survey — the move represents an effort by the Biden administration to remove Trump-era appointees from scientific roles, per CNN.

26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congress, White House brace for Chauvin verdict

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are anxious as the nation awaits the verdict in former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial, fearing a not-guilty decision could exacerbate racial tensions and spark a new wave of riots.

Why it matters: Leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are trying to figure out how to calibrate any personal or legislative response, while also acknowledging how the final outcome in Chauvin's murder trial in the death of George Floyd could affect their district and them politically.

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