Face Mask Sales Rise 24 Percent as CDC Issues New Guidelines

Sales of face masks grew 24 percent in the week that ended on Tuesday compared to the previous week, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index. The rise coincides with a newly-updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor, public places in areas of the U.S. with high transmission rates, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. mask sales have been rising in general over the past few weeks as the coronavirus, particularly the highly contagious Delta variant, surges throughout the country. Grocery delivery company Instacart reported mask sales on its platform changed course after the Fourth of July weekend after seeing a steady decline since April, the Associated Press reported.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail said "masks were really fading out" before the recent uptick, but even the recent surge in sales isn't likely to raise the mask industry back to its height earlier in the pandemic.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Mask Sales Rise
Retail analysts expect mask sales will get another jolt after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Tuesday changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where cases of the coronavirus are surging. A merchant displays masks for sale in Los Angeles on March 20. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

Saunders noted stores face challenges in determining how much they should order and how much they should display them.

"No one actually wants to go out and make another big commitment," Saunders said. "No one knows what's going to happen."

The rising mask sales mark a shift from the past two months when masks were getting heavily discounted and were being pushed to the side on the sales floor following the CDC move to relax guidance on masks in May. Even before then, data from NielsenIQ showed that mask sales started to consistently decline weekly since early April, going from $101 million worth of masks to roughly $37 million for the week ended July 3. It doesn't yet have July sales figures.

For many stores looking to generate sales in an overall retail sales slump last year, masks were a bright spot. Most notably, Gap, along with its portfolio of brands including Old Navy and Athleta, as well as Etsy made millions of dollars on masks.

Etsy, a global online marketplace for handmade goods, has seen its masks go from 14 percent of gross merchandise sales in the second quarter of 2020 to less than 3 percent in the first quarter of 2021. The company declined to comment on mask sales trends on Wednesday, noting it's in its quiet period ahead of its earnings release next week.

Since the onset of the pandemic, 3M Co. increased its annual production of N95 masks fourfold to 2.5 billion by building extra capacity. It said global demand reached its peak in the first quarter of this year, which included stockpiling from governments and hospitals. It's now seeing a deceleration in overall health care demand and is adjusting production, increasing supply to industrial and consumer outlets while continuing to prioritize health care workers in the geographies seeing increased COVID-19 cases and elevated hospitalization rates.

But 3M CEO Mike Roman told analysts on Tuesday that, just like in the past, it is "prepared to increase production in response to COVID-19-related needs or future emergencies when needed."

Honeywell International Inc., another big manufacturer of N95 masks, said it "continues to produce N95 masks in the U.S. to meet the needs of frontline and essential workers."

In light of renewed interest in face coverings, Vanessa Gordon plans to relaunch later this week her website that sells masks she designed and produces in India. She launched Eastendtastelifestyle.com in September 2020 with Shopify but closed it down in January because she only sold about 50 through the site and another 50 through family and friends. She said there was too much competition elsewhere. She also realized shoppers weren't wearing face coverings as much.

Gordon said she now feels confident she will quickly sell out of her inventory of 1,000 masks and will produce even more.

"People are still getting sick—even those who are vaccinated," Gordon said. "This is shifting people's mindset. I think we will be wearing masks for a long time."

Face Mask Sign in California
People vaccinated against COVID-19 in high-risk parts of the U.S. should resume wearing masks indoors, the top health authority said Tuesday, a major shift in coronavirus guidance that underscores the country's struggle to suppress the Delta variant. A sign reads "Thank you! For Wearing A Mask," outside a supermarket in Indian Valley, California, on Tuesday. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images