With the novel Coronavirus in full flush, I have never been more self-educated in needing to know more about protective masks. Since the beginning of April, I have wondered at all the face covering options, while knowing, and accepting that the medical grade masks — the now non-ubiquitous N95 masks — are not available to the public. I’ve been searching everywhere for a lead on a KN95 mask or a surgical mask — the lesser protective cousin to the full N95 mask — or some sort of other, non-optimal mask that can protect Janna and me from the vulgarities of Covid-19. We are not having any luck.

Janna and I are both in the high risk category. She for a previously collapsed lung; me for high blood pressure. We are a little older but we eat right and exercise. We have been locked down for a month now. We have searched Home Depot, and Walgreens, and Lowes, and every other place we can imagine to find good protective masks. We found nothing.

Then I turned to the online resellers in my effort to find masks. We would settle for any sort of mask, and our search took us deep into the dark underworld of nefarious sellers called: eBay. This is our sorry story.

There are two important dates in eBay protective masks history that are important. April 2, 2020 and April 3, 2020. I was lucky enough/unfortunate enough, to be sold and pricked and packaged on both of those days of infamy.

April 2 is important because that was the first day the CDC, and other government entities, finally decided to warn us that masks were actually an important protectant against Covid-19 — after lying to us for a month that masks made no difference at all! I understand the lie now. There were no masks to be had. There were no masks for the front line defenders, and having a panic buying attack by people like me, desperate for protection as well, would’ve sent us all into a frenzy seeking protection from the storm. And so, we were left abandoned, and exposed, by the purposeful Federal lie tied to an imaginary, mandatory, greater good.

So, April 2 I dove into eBay and looked for masks. I found a few. Surgical masks. 3M KN95 masks with a valve on the side — which I later learned are bad because the valve doesn’t protect others from your exhalations — and we found motorcycle masks and other wild, homemade varieties. I bought many masks at highly inflated prices — paying over $7 per mask in some cases, and, of course, so far, none of them have been delivered. Something has “shipped” but the USPS says in their tracking information that just because something has “shipped” doesn’t mean it’s actually been accepted by the Post Office. Plus, there are zero updates from the USPS in my text messages about any of these so called eBay “shipments.”

Oh, my! Buyer Beware!

The second low watershed mark on eBay was the next day, April 3, when I was continuing to bid on more masks for sale. I made several purchases, again, price-gouging was obviously in effect with the sellers, but that’s the world we live in now where those who have known those of us who have not are desperate to have what cannot be had. I made several crazy-priced purchases, and later in the day, eBay cancelled all of those buys, and removed the listings from the site. eBay decided on April 3 that the selling of masks and other paramedic pandemic essentials were no longer allowed — because those items needed to be reserved for first responders and the healthcare industry. Okay, then. I get it. The first line comes first, the unwashed get nothing. Except, it seems, that eBay sellers can get around their delisting by continuing to fulfill your order, and keep your money, even though eBay removed their listing! I don’t know how that is allowed to happen, but it did, and all the April 3 purchases I made that were deleted by eBay were shipped — and, again, none of those purchases have arrived, and none of them have moved their “shipping” status in 11 days. The USPS again warns me online with tracking updates that even though a package has a shipping number and that number is in their system doesn’t mean the USPS has actually taken possession of the package. I call that the “USPS eBay warning exception!” Again, not one of the packages has been updated by the Post Office in my online account, which is really strange, if these purchases were actually on the up and up.

I’ve contacted some of the non-delivery eBay sellers — who all claim everything is fine and that I need to wait another 10 days before contacting them again because of “Covid-19 delays” — but the fine details of their “shipments” say otherwise, and I am hopeful that when the time comes eBay will, in fact, protect me from these predatory sellers.

And so here we are! Penniless and maskless, and I have no real hope that any of these items will ever arrive. This is profiteering and price-gouging at its best, and in normal times I’d never bite on these buys — but in a pandemic, all rationalization leaves the mind and the power of the purchase becomes the most important matter of fact for survival against an invisible enemy.

Here’s a recent exchange I had with a friend of mine back in Nebraska who was checking in on me, and who wanted some advice on what to expect when the Coronavirus creeps upon the braided prairie.

Hello friend! Good to hear from you. I hope you are well.

I’ve been doing several weekly HumanMeme.com podcasts about the virus. Here in NYC, we’ve been locked down since March 15. That’s 100% inside. We left once last week to get 3 months of medication from Walgreens, and that was odd and spooky.

We are grateful for Whole Foods home delivery. We would be starving without them. My wife works for NYState. She’s been working from home and all the NYU classes she teaches are now online via Zoom. I don’t expect much of this lockdown to change until June or so around here — the spread peak won’t start in DC until late May.

We will have a second wave when the lockdown is lifted. It’s going to be unavoidable with all the international airports around us. I’m not sure NYU will be back to in person classes by the Fall. You can’t practice social distancing in a NYC classroom.

That said, good luck there! It’s coming for you, too, and the South. Edges of the USA first, then into the soft center where people think they are immune because of geography and lack of interest. I wish NE and IA had better governors; they’re going to cost lives with their republican arrogance.

Start stockpiling now. Food. Cleaning supplies. Meds. Masks. You’re lucky that now you know you need a mask every day, lots of them, for the next two years until we have a vaccine.

Get a good mask. KN95 if you can find them — not medical grade, but perfect for you and us — don’t get the masks with the valve on the side; those don’t block YOUR exhaled air for others. We were misled about masks here, but you have a head start there, and we’re trying to get caught up again! It isn’t too late for you!

Oh, and remember, this virus enters via the mouth, nose and eyes. So, wear sunglasses when you go outside, too.

Be well and stay in touch!

I know one day soon, we’ll all be able to protect ourselves with good N95 masks at a reasonable price, but until that day arrives, please be careful out there, and watch out for online predators — even if they look safe under the guise of a reputable online seller. We are all teetering into desperate times, and frightened people tend not to cling to the side of safety — they tend to cling onto whatever perceived lifesaver is nearby, even if it looks like an anchor, acts like an anchor, and plummets them to the bottom of the ocean like an anchor. Oh, and also — please don’t be the anchor, or the perceiver!