People are panicked about coronavirus. And Purell seems to be one coping method.

Most local retailers have run out of the hand sanitizer, as well as store brands that contain essentially the same active ingredient (at least 60% alcohol). And for the privilege on Amazon, you can hand over more than $100 for a Purell two-pack of eight-ounce packages. (Pre-coronavirus price was less than $10.)

The surge in buying comes even as experts say washing with regular soap and water is just as good, and maybe even better.

Purell hand sanitizer shortages at local grocers, department stores, and pharmacies will continue in the short run, but the Ohio manufacturer of the product says it’s working to resupply stores soon, though the firm would not commit to a timetable.

GOJO, which makes Purell, says its Akron facilities are working round the clock to make more of the alcohol-based hand sanitizer, snapped up by consumers and businesses amid mounting concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and recommendations by health officials to increase the frequency of hand-washing to combat the spread of the virus.

Underneath the corporate lingo, the message from GOJO was all (clean) hands on deck.

“We have a surge preparedness team that runs in the background all the time, who have been fully activated and are coordinating our response to the increase in demand,” said Samantha Williams, corporate communications senior director. The company could not provide an estimate as to when resupply could reach normal levels, and spokespeople for CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid were also unable to pinpoint when Purell would return.

Supplies can be found here and there — the Walgreens at 63rd and Vine had a few store-brand bottles left, but most nearby pharmacies and grocers were sold out.

These bottles of hand sanitizer were among the few available Monday at the Walgreens at 63rd and Vine.
Inquirer
These bottles of hand sanitizer were among the few available Monday at the Walgreens at 63rd and Vine.

The new Golden Farms supermarket at 67th and Haverford sold its last bottle Monday, and the manager was hopeful of having more by the end of the week. Will Knight, manager of the CVS at 49th and Market, said he expects a shipment on Wednesday. He has trouble keeping it in stock, same with surgical masks, a problem intensified by the fact that an often single buyer will purchase large quantities of hard-to-find items.

CVS said a policy limiting the size of customer purchases, once supplies return, is “under review.” Other chains said no such policies were currently being considered.

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Signs on the shelves at the Giant supermarket at the Quarry Center on Township Line Road, Delaware County, told customers Monday that hand sanitizer was sold out. Manager Kevin O’Hara wasn’t sure when he’d get more.

Overall business has been brisk in recent days, and workers Tuesday were busy restocking, but O’Hara said traffic is at “snow event” levels.

Folks also want sanitizing wipes.

“We just had a shipment in last night. As fast as it comes in, it goes right out,” O’Hara said. Customers are purchasing canned goods and basic items “that can sustain them” if they need to be at home for a while. The store was well-stocked with most items, and resupply has not been a problem.

“We get a shipment in every night,” he said.

Although the spread of COVID-19 might be expected to increase demand for fever medication and products that deal with flulike symptoms associated with the virus, most local stores were well stocked with those items.

Adobe Analytics reported earlier this week that the December-to-January demand for hand sanitizers jumped more than 1,000%. Nielsen reported sanitizer sales in the United States were up 73% in the four weeks ended Feb. 22.

Amazon.com reportedly indicated it would start to push back against price gouging.

Demand for Purell products has surged even though the CDC, FDA, and many experts say washing properly with soap and water (vigorously for at least 20 seconds) is just as effective, if not more so.

In fact, the FDA just this year, Jan. 17, sent a letter to GOJO stipulating the agency was “not aware of any adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating that killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin by a certain magnitude produces a corresponding clinical reduction in the infection or disease caused by such bacteria or virus.” The FDA asked GOJO to back away from claims that Purell was effective in killing Ebola, MRSA, VRE, norovirus, and flu.

The CDC says washing hands with soap and water can be more effective than Purell. Soap and water can dislodge more of the dirt and grime that can serve as a stubborn host for viruses, not to mention other microbes that contribute to disease.

Most area stores had ample supplies of Lysol and Clorox products that clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces where microbes could linger. Lysol claims to kill 99.9% of germs on contact, including strains of human coronavirus. There has been no specific test to demonstrate that Lysol or Clorox can kill COVID-19, but they have been effective against similar emerging viruses, and on that basis the Environmental Protection Agency has permitted manufacturers to describe their products as effective.

Local stores have plenty of toilet paper, a commodity that has become temporarily scarce in Japan during the coronavirus scare, fueled by panic buying and social media misinformation, despite repeated assurances from Japanese toilet-paper manufacturers that their ability to make toilet paper is undiminished and unthreatened by the virus.

Any toilet-paper shortage will be temporary, officials said. In the meantime, hand-washing is even more urgent.

You can also make your own hand sanitizer with two parts rubbing alcohol and one part aloe vera gel. Mix them in an empty soap dispenser bottle and you’re good to go. Both ingredients are in ample supply.