APPLETON, Wis. — Elsa Prahl stands in front of about a dozen choices of protective facial coverings.
The mix includes N95 and KN95 masks, products in high demand during the pandemic.
It’s an item Ace Hardware of Appleton, and other hardware stores, have carried for years for people diving into home improvement and other projects.
But over the past two years, it’s also been a stop for people looking for protection from COVID-19 and its variants.
“She came in and said she specifically needed the N95 because she was traveling and wanted to be safe over the Christmas holiday” Prahl said of a recent customer.
Prahl said sales have ticked up in recent weeks.
“It’s going up again right now with holiday travel, the holidays or what’s going on in the news with COVID,” she said.
Some medical experts this week suggested surgical and N95-style masks offer more protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19, which is spreading quickly.
Jude Jean-Pierre of RxLink Pharmacy in downtown Appleton, said mask sales fluctuate, but have been on an upward trend through the holidays.
“Some of them just wanted the temporary regular masks; others wanted the KN95,” he said about customers seeking masks.
Jean-Pierre said N95 and KN95 masks are options that offer more protection than a cloth mask.
“We do recommend a KN95 because of the filtering that exists... [It] can capture the molecules and the virus itself,” he said. “But any kind of mask is better than no mask.”
Prahl said Ace of Appleton is well stocked and masks are available in the warehouse.
She estimates a little more than 50% of N95 and KN95 sales are tied to COVID-19.
“You get people coming in specifically for the N95s or the KN95s. They say, ‘I’m traveling,’ or, ‘I want to get for my kid who is going off to college.’ We got a lot that,” Prahl said. “Then we have the people who are coming in because they’re sanding paint.”