Americans hoarding hand sanitizer, face masks and oat milk amid coronavirus fears

Health authorities warn the run on face masks and sanitizer may be misguided.

As fears of a coronavirus pandemic sweep across the nation, Americans have been buying up face masks, hand sanitizer and oat milk at skyrocketing rates.

Sales for medical face masks in the U.S. jumped 319% in the four-week period that ended on Feb. 22, according to data from the consumer research firm Nielsen. Household maintenance masks sales were similarly up 262% in that same period.

Hand sanitizer sales spiked 73%, though Nielsen predicts that the demand for sanitizer hasn't even begun to peak. Sales of thermometers were up by 47%, and aerosol disinfectant purchases climbed 32%.

The data also indicated high demand for shelf-stable items amid COVID-19 concerns, as Americans prepare to hunker down in the event of a widespread quarantine.

Shelf-stable pantry items are moving briskly, with oat milk sales increasing more than 300% in the one-week period ending Feb. 22. Fruit snacks, pet medicine and dried beans rose about 10%, as sales of first-aid kits, supplements and bottled water also rising during that span.

High consumer demand for face masks and hand sanitizer has rattled health officials, who've warned that a run on those products outbreak may be misguided.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't currently recommend for healthy people to wear a mask to protect against coronavirus.

Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams implored the public to stop buying masks in a tweet Saturday, writing 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!"

Medical professionals and the CDC still recommend old-fashioned hand washing with soap and water over hand sanitizers. If soap and water aren't readily available, then the CDC recommends opting for an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

"We are used to the convenience of the hand sanitizer, which we can carry around with us," Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told ABC News.

"They are wonderful, but if you happen to run out, go to a sink," he added. "Certainly do that when you get home. When you get home, hang up your coat and go directly to sink."

As for the run on supplies, Schaffner said he isn't worried.

"I think those supplies will be fairly rapidly restored," he said. "The companies say they are working hard and they will be able to supply the demand."

ABC News' Erin Schumaker contributed to this report.

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