Stores barred from overcharging on face masks as they are declared temporarily in short supply

White protective sterile face masks on vintage wooden board
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New Yorkers who are in need of face masks won’t have to worry about stores overcharging them for this highly sought out product.

Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas announced on Wednesday that she is declaring face masks temporarily in short supply to prevent stores from overcharging New York City residents. The declaration will officially go into effect on March 5, and expires in 30 days but can be cancelled or extended by the commissioner.

While health officials are advising against buying masks for non-medical use if you are healthy, the shortage is continuing. With this declaration, it is temporarily illegal for stores to drastically increase prices.

Preying on people who are concerned for the health of themselves and their loved ones for a profit will not be tolerated in NYC, ” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “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. I myself went to a store last weekend after hearing reports of overcharging and was charged $212 for a box of 10 masks—which is astronomical. This practice stops now.”

“While we do not advise healthy New Yorkers wear masks, they do provide a public health benefit in some situations,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “Price gouging medical supplies is unconscionable and I am pleased that the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection is taking steps to stop it.”

The DCWP commissioner can declare certain items temporarily in short supply in extraordinary circumstances. Under this declaration, stores selling face masks cannot excessively increase prices, require the purchase of a minimum quantity of the item, deny consumers equal opportunity to purchase the item or require consumers to purchase another item to get the item in short supply. 

The DCWP will inspect stores and respond to consumer complaints. Stores that overcharge their customers will be subject to a violation with a $500 fine.

DCWP encourages consumers who are overcharged to file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp or by contacting 311.

“Price gouging of any kind is unacceptable and will not be tolerated here in New York City,” said NYC Emergency Management Commissioner Deanne Criswell. “While this declaration does not impact the City’s stockpile of personal protective equipment, we are keeping a close eye on our supply chain and will continue to coordinate any requests with the Health Department, as well as our state and federal partners, to make sure we have the resources needed to continue standard operations.”