Around the West Valley, shelves that would normally have masks are empty. (Peoria Times photo by Emma Richburg)

Though health officials insist they are not needed, masks are flying off shelves.

Up and down the West Valley, it is almost impossible to buy the kind of masks seen in China and other parts of the world hit by COVID-19.

“There are no masks in a 10-mile radius,” said one drugstore worker, who asked not to be identified. “We sell out in one day after we get them because everyone is scared of the new virus.”

Peoria Times contacted Walmart, CVS and Walgreens stores in Goodyear, Glendale and Peoria. None had masks in stock.

In the first-aid sections, there are wide gaps of empty shelving where the masks would normally be.

This, despite instruction from the World Health Organization’s website, “If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.

“Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.”

However, with news of the coronavirus spreading from China to Italy, Iran and elsewhere, and expectations it will eventually spread to the United States, it has not stopped people from stockpiling masks.

Peoria Times emailed Walmart, CVS and Walgreens about the mask shortages.

“We are working with our suppliers to meet customer demand for masks,” said Joe Goode, a spokesman for CVS.

“This demand may cause temporary shortages at some store locations and we re-supply those stores as quickly as possible.”

As of Monday, Walmart and Walgreens had not responded to the emails.

The shortage in the West Valley reflects a national trend.

The surgeon general on Saturday took to Twitter.

“Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS!” tweeted Jerome M. Adams, the surgeon general. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk.”

The message was reiterated by Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We need to make sure those N95 masks are available for the doctors and nurses that are going to be taking care of individuals that have this (COVID-19) illness,” he said during a House Foreign Affairs hearing Feb. 27. “...there is no role for these masks in the community.”

Emma Richburg contributed to this story.