Area grocery stores and pharmacies are running low on hand sanitizers, face masks and some cleaning supplies as the demand for these products grow due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
On Monday, the Kroger Co. announced it’s limiting the sale of sanitization and cold- and flu-related products as the demand exceeds supply.
“Due to high demand and to support all customers, we will be limiting the number of sanitization, cold and flu related products to 5 each per order,” the Cincinnati-based company said on its website.
“Your order may be modified at time of pickup or delivery.”
The limitation appears to only apply to online Kroger sales, but other brick and mortar operations say the shortage has hit their stores.
Rite Aid, Walmart, Dollar General and CVS Pharmacy were among the retailers that told the Dayton Daily News on Tuesday that their supplies of masks being used to combat the new coronavirus are out or running low.
Rite Aid and CVS store employees in Kettering said they’ve been out of masks for several weeks because their supplier has been shipping a large quantity overseas.
Even smaller retailers like Whitacre’s Pharmacy in Springfield and the Benzer Pharmacy in Yellow Springs said they’ve been out of the masks.
“We just do not have them in stock like everybody else around, they are hard to get from suppliers,” a pharmacy rep from Whitacre’s said.
Clark County Public Information Officer, Michael Cooper, added, “As far as shortage of masks is concerned, our retail stores have been sold out for the last few weeks which is pretty typical for most areas. Our hospitals, public health workers and EMS are not facing a shortage at the moment, but we’re working with large distributors in case we were to have a shortage locally.”
Hospitals are more concerned about a shortage of face masks, which people have also been snatching up despite pleas from health officials. Patient and treatment rooms in hospitals always have a sink and soap to wash hands, says Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association’s head of quality and patient safety. But there are no good alternatives to masks for nurses and doctors.
University of Cincinnati Dr. Sergey Grinshpun has tested the performance of respiratory protective devices against biological agents for nearly three decades. He agrees that not only are the masks being purchased in mass right now are not needed, but may not have the desired effect when purchased.
“When some major outbreak happens such as one with coronavirus or SARS or Ebola, there is a lot of misinformation,” says Grinshpun, also a professor in the UC College of Medicine. “This relates to respiratory protection devices and what device to wear and also what protection level or efficiency you are paying for. People want to have something very light and comfortable, and they usually don’t like military style full-style respiratory systems to carry around.”
Grinshpun says that individuals wearing certified N95 filtering face piece respirators, can screen about 95 percent of airborne particles if fitted correctly. Major workplaces including hospitals do a fit testing so that respirators are properly fitted, but many ordinary citizens have no idea how to properly wear the respirator.
“The important difference is the face mask was not designed to protect a wearer, instead it is a barrier to droplets and spit generated by the wearer, which should protect others,” explained Grinshpun.
Fear of the coronavirus has led people to stock up on hand sanitizer, leaving store shelves empty and online retailers with sky-high prices set by those trying to profit on the rush. More is on the way, although it’s not clear how long it will take retailers to restock.
Sales of hand sanitizers in the U.S. were up 73% in the four weeks ending Feb. 22 compared to the same period a year ago, according to market research firm Nielsen.
The alcohol-based gunk is convenient, but hand sanitizer isn’t the best way to clean your hands. For that, soap and water still reigns supreme, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency recommends first washing hands with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under finger nails before rinsing off.
If you’re not near a sink, hand sanitizer will do. But keep in mind that it doesn’t kill all germs, the CDC says. Read the label and make sure you’re using one that has at least 60% alcohol, the health agency says. After applying it, rub it all over your hands until they’re dry. Another tip: don’t touch your face, since health officials say viruses could enter your body from your eyes, mouth or nose.
Amazon reported on its website that it removed more than 1 million products from a third-party doing business on its marketplace for selling items under false pretenses about the coronavirus.
Walmart broached the subject by repeating what many experts have been saying and issued a statement saying, “There has been a lot of information in the news about face masks, and it is important to understand face masks are not recommended by CDC for general use. The best uses for face masks as identified by CDC are for those who are sick to avoid spreading to others and by health workers and caregivers who are taking care of someone in a close setting.”
There have been no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Ohio according to the Ohio Dept. of Health as of Tuesday afternoon, and just one case that is being investigated.
The death toll in the United States reached nine as of Tuesday afternoon according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The New York Times contributed to this story.
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