VICTORIA -- Face masks have become more common around British Columbia in the past several days, as folks fearing the spread of the novel coronavirus have been snapping them up from stores.

In fact, they are seemingly sold out in the capital region, including at pharmacies.

Tom Fourt is a pharmacist at IDA Forbes Pharmacy in Victoria. He says the shelves there have been picked clean since last week, and the pharmacy doesn’t know for certain when it will be getting another supply.

"We've tried every source to get them from and they're not available anywhere," he said.

But experts say the run on masks is fuelled by fear, not science.

Dr. Rhoina Low is a family physician. She says the risk of the spread of the virus remains very low and masks don’t provide any significant help for healthy people.

"If you're a healthy person who's not sick, wearing a mask is no good," Low said. "It doesn't help you at all, because a mask itself is not a complete sealant, so you can still get things around your face."

Still, yesterday's news that the first case of the virus has landed in B.C. has amped up anxieties

Psychologist and UBC professor Dr. Steven Taylor says increased anxiety comes with several problems.

"People are going to start misinterpreting ordinary coughs and colds as signs of infections," Taylor said. "It can also lead to an increase in racism and xenophobia as frightened people leap to conclusions that Chinese people are sources of infection."

For now, panic seems to be trumping common sense. In fact, a secondary market for masks has made its way to the Internet, where some people are selling respiratory masks for as much as $300 per box.

Meanwhile, Island Health says it has seen a small increase in emergency room visits with patients worried about coronavirus

Despite the growing concerns and the heightened demand for masks, medical officials maintain the best form of prevention is simple: wash your hands.