State producing hand sanitizer to combat price gouging, limited availability

Legislative Gazette photo by Nadine Cafaro
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at press conference in Albany on Monday, demonstrates new hand sanitizer being produced by inmates in Great Meadow Correctional Facility that will be distributed to schools, state offices, prisons and public transportation systems, to ensure that is is available. Sanitizer has been hard to find and expensive in recent weeks, and the governor hopes to make it more available to more New Yorkers by bypassing retailers.

As New York state hits 142 confirmed cases of coronavirus, officials will begin providing hand sanitizer to local municipalities to help limit community spread and combat price gouging.

The governor announced Monday that the state decided to produce its own hand sanitizer to address concerns of shortages and rising prices. It will not be sold, but it will be distributed to schools, prisons, the MTA and other places where the virus could spread quickly.

“Just to give you an idea, a gallon bottle cost us $6.10, the seven-ounce bottle is $1.12, and then there is a very small size which is 84 cents, so it’s cheaper for us to make it ourselves than to buy it on the open market,” Cuomo explained.

The hand sanitizer will be manufactured by Corcraft — the correctional industries entity run by the state Department of Corrections — using inmate labor at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County. Wages at the prison start at 16 cents an hour and average 65 cents an hour. The current manufacturing capacity is 100,000 gallons per week, but will be “ramping up” in the coming weeks.

Incarcerated people are vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, but they are generally not allowed to possess or use hand sanitizer. It is considered contraband due to its high alcohol content. That policy will change in hopes of stopping the spread inside state prisons. 

Cuomo also introduced an amendment to his paid sick leave legislation on Monday, which originally would have mandated five paid sick days for all workers (full-time, part-time or seasonal) at businesses and companies employing more than five people. His amendment would expand the measure to cover the suggested 14-day quarantine period, so people can abide by quarantines without fear of losing their job.

“I think it’s especially important that if the government is ordering a quarantine, even a voluntary quarantine, that places a personal hardship on a person and that person should get paid,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to be sending up a bill to the legislature. I’m going to speak to leaders about that today. I think for the business community, it’s in their interest that people actually stay home and stop the spread.”

As New Rochelle in Westchester County continues to suffer from rapid community spread, their schools are expected to close for a number of weeks and their nursing homes will be closing to visitors until further notice. Cuomo advised that all nursing homes take precautionary measures, like limiting the number of visitors.

Legislative Gazette photo by Nadine Cafaro

“The people at risk here are senior citizens, people with compromised immune systems, people with an underlying illness, but they should take it seriously,” Cuomo said. “The fear and the hysteria is outpacing the reality of the situation, but the reality of the situation is people in that target group should be careful. They should be taking precautions.”

Schools across the state have been advised of a new policy that, if one student is found to have contracted the virus, the school will close for at least 24 hours so the building can be cleaned and faculty and local health officials can work together to assess when the school should reopen.

Extended school closings can be a problem for many students. As the New York Times reported Saturday, New York City considers long-term closings a last resort because, for many poor and homeless students, schools are their only source of meals and medical care.

With more measures being taken, more warnings issued and, as of Saturday, a state of emergency declared, Cuomo recognizes that it can be easy for people to panic. However, he maintained his position that paying attention to the facts will ease concerns.

“We have 142 cases, but only 8 of those people are hospitalized,” Cuomo explained. “Johns Hopkins tracks every coronavirus case since it started. There’s 111,363 cases, 3,892 deaths, 62,375 recovered and 45,096 pending — still recovering. That’s it.”