New York is Producing its Own Hand Sanitizer Amid COVID-19 Outbreak
by Dan Clark • Published on March 9, 2020 • 0 Comments
New York state is now producing its own hand sanitizer.
Credit: Brian Flynn
In response to hand sanitizer flying off the shelves at stores amid an outbreak of mass hysteria about COVID-19, New York state has decided to start producing its own citrus-scented sanitizer, which will be distributed to certain municipalities free of charge.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the product Monday at the state capitol, where he said the number of positive COVID-19 cases in New York had reached 142.
“Literally, we hear from government that they’re having trouble getting it,” Cuomo said, referring to hand sanitizer.
Most cases, Cuomo said, have originated in Westchester County, where 98 people have tested positive for the disease. That’s compared to 19 cases in New York City, 17 in Nassau County, four in Rockland County, two in Saratoga County, and one each in Suffolk and Ulster Counties.
One case, in particular, made headlines Monday. Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has tested positive for the disease and has been quarantined at home, Cuomo said.
So far, no one has died in New York from COVID-19. Eight people have been hospitalized, Cuomo said.
Officials in New York will now be distributing state-made hand sanitizer to areas that have been particularly hard-hit by the disease. That includes Westchester County, and specifically New Rochelle, which is considered a national epicenter of the disease.
Cuomo said the product will also be provided to governmental agencies, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subways.
The hand sanitizer won’t be sold by the state to consumers. The idea behind the product is to contain the disease in areas where it appears to be spreading faster than others.
The cost to the state to produce the product is minimal, Cuomo said. A gallon of the stuff will set New York’s taxpayers back $6.
“It’s much cheaper for us to make it ourselves than to buy it on the open market,” Cuomo said.
That’s partly because of how it’s being produced. It’s being manufactured by inmates at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County using supplies purchased by the state. The goal is to produce 100,000 gallons of the sanitizer per week.
Criminal justice groups, like Citizen Action and VOCAL-NY, were critical of the state Monday for using inmates to produce the product. In a statement, they said Cuomo should grant clemency to older individuals who may be at risk of contracting COVID-19 in prison, and raise the rate of pay for inmates. They’re currently paid less than a dollar per hour, according to state reports.
“We are disgusted at Governor Cuomo’s decision to exploit prison labor to push back the imminent public health crisis presented by COVID-19 while doing absolutely nothing for incarcerated people across the state,” the statement said.
The state-produced hand sanitizer is on top of New York’s efforts to ramp up the capacity of health care providers and facilities to test for the disease. Cuomo’s goal is to be able to test 1,000 people each day.
That’s been stunted in recent days, Cuomo said, because the Centers for Disease Control hasn’t given the state approval to conduct automated testing for the disease. That process, different than manual, would increase testing capacity by hundreds, Cuomo said.
Cuomo said he spoke about automated testing Monday morning with Vice President Mike Pence, who’s been tasked with leading the federal government’s response to COVID-19. Pence didn’t give the state approval for that testing, but Cuomo said he expects an update soon.
New York is also implementing a new policy to contain the virus from spreading at schools. Cuomo said if someone tests positive for COVID-19 at a school, that facility will be closed down for at least 24 hours while local and state health officials evaluate the situation.
Cuomo said he’s also urging the state Legislature to immediately approve a bill that would allow for paid sick time for employees who have to miss work because of COVID-19. Lawmakers return to Albany for the week on Tuesday.