Residents looking to take precautions against COVID-19 will have trouble finding basic supplies.
COVID-19 has made its way to Oklahoma with the state's first case reported Friday. There are 300 confirmed cases and 17 deaths in 28 states as of Friday, according to the Center for Disease Control. The virus has made a greater impact worldwide, where officials are estimating 102,000 confirmed cases and 3,500 deaths in 96 countries and territories.
Local residents are looking to protect themselves against the virus, but supplies such as hand sanitizer and face masks are in short supply locally and nationally, and local retailers and pharmacies are unable to keep up with the demand.
Face masks, which help prevent the spread of viruses and other illnesses, have been nearly impossible to find from pharmacies in Norman in recent weeks as a result of the growing concern of COVID-19. Rory Forinash, pharmacist at Thunder Discount Drug on 2296 W. Main St., said the pharmacy has struggled to keep its stock of face masks replenished since the outbreak.
“All of our orders to our manufacturers for face masks have been on back order since the news broke that the coronavirus was in China,” Forinash said. “We've gotten some orders of face mask on allocation, but they don't give us very much because of the high demand.”
Local pharmacies are also struggling due to the lack of communication from manufacturers. Some manufacturers have been unable to predict when pharmacies will receive new shipments of face masks, as the high demand locally and world wide puts pressure on the companies.
Emily Thiemann, pharmacist with Physicians & Surgeons Pharmacy on 900 N Porter Ave., said they aren't sure when they will get their next shipment.
“We're not able to get face masks,” Thiemann said. “Whenever I try to order them, I'm told that they aren't available right now. We were told that we would have a new shipment of face masks in early March, but it's early March now and we haven't heard anything.”
Dave Patel, owner of Dave's Healthcare Pharmacy on 329 N. Porter Ave., said his store sold out its supply of face masks within a week, and hasn't had any in stock in more than three weeks. Patel said he has resorted to making a list of the names and numbers of customers looking for face masks, telling them he will give them a call if they receive a shipment. However, Patel said they will not reserve face masks for customers, meaning the supply will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
Patel said this kind of high demand on face masks is not normal, which made it difficult for local pharmacies to prepare.
“Even during flu season, people usually aren't panicked this much,” Patel said. “I'm not sure if it's because it's spreading or it's new or that they haven't come up with a vaccine, but we've never seen this kind of demand. We're a small business, but if we don't have something in stock we can usually order it.
While face masks are hard to find, residents may find it just as difficult to find alcohol-based hand sanitizer, such as Germ-X and Purell, in local stores. Sales of hand sanitizer in February were up 73% compared to February of last year, according to the Associated Press, indicating a high demand for hand sanitizer across the country.
Robert Whinery, manager of Walgreens on 615 W. Main St., said their shipments of hand sanitizer have decreased in recent weeks, and have sold quickly when they do have it in stock.
“People are wiping us out as soon as we get any shipments,” Whinery said. “A lot of people are buying in bulk, so there are still a lot of people who aren't getting access to them because our supply sells so quickly.”
Other pharmacists have echoed that sentiment and are struggling to keep their limited shipments on store shelves. Residents looking for hand sanitizer may have better luck looking at major retailers like Amazon, but the increase in demand has led to an increase in prices at most retailers, according to AP. As of Thursday, Amazon.com had different brands of sanitizer in stock, but one 10 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer was priced at $79.99.
Forinash said that while hand sanitizer offers people a more convenient way to clean their hands, basic hand-washing with soap and water is just as effective.
“Anything that supports the immune system like supplements, hydration and good rest are good things for people to do,” Forinash said. “Hand sanitizer is also good, but basic hand-washing is just as good if people are struggling to find hand sanitizer.”
As the state and nation continues to experience a shortage of hand sanitizer and face masks, local pharmacies are waiting for manufactures to restock their supplies. Health officials are warning residents that the COVID-19 is continuing to spread and is advising people to continue to use basic sanitary and prevention methods.
Whinery said local residents should also be aware of the shortages in Norman.
“A lot of the shortage is going to depend on what's going on with the coronavirus and if they can find a vaccine,” Whinery said. “But until then, we all just have to work together. One bottle of hand sanitizer lasts someone a long time, and a lot of people are needing it. We need to learn how to ration and we have to think of other people.
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