Brooklyn Boro

$90 hand sanitizer and empty pharmacy shelves greet Brooklyn shoppers

March 9, 2020 Alex Williamson
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Shoppers on the hunt for disinfectant sprays and wipes, flu and cough medications and hand sanitizer in Brooklyn may be hard pressed to find these and other recommended items to weather the city’s coronavirus outbreak. Many pharmacies in the borough were sold out or nearly sold out of some basic cleaning supplies and over-the-counter medications as the city’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 20 on Monday.

James McNair was purchasing N95 masks from a table vendor on Court Street Monday morning. The vendor had his table set up outside the coffee shop where McNair works and was selling two masks for $12. McNair bought three, and explained that he had tried to find the masks online but hadn’t been able to.

“I’m a pretty big germaphobe,” McNair said, and pointed to a miniature bottle of Purell clipped to his belt. He said he’s already created a “quarantine zone” at home for his kids to remove their clothes when they arrive home each day.

A Walgreens in Bay Ridge was running low on hand soap Sunday afternoon. A worker indicated she believed coronavirus-related shopping was the likely cause. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle

Walgreens on Third Avenue on the corner of 95th Street in Bay Ridge was running low on hand soap Sunday afternoon. A worker indicated coronavirus-induced buying was the likely cause.

Two pharmacies in Downtown Brooklyn on Monday were sold out or nearly sold out of cleaning supplies, disinfectant sprays, cough syrups and zinc lozenges. Neither store had any hand sanitizer left.

A worker at the Duane Reade on Jay and Fulton Streets said the store last received a shipment of hand sanitizer on Thursday and sold out almost immediately.

A Downtown Brooklyn Duane Reade was running low on cleaning supplies Monday. Photo: Alex Williamson/Brooklyn Eagle

Meanwhile, posts to Brooklyn’s Craigslist page offer hand sanitizer and face masks at wildly inflated prices. One post lists 96 oz of hand sanitizer for $90, nearly a dollar an ounce. Another offers 10 face masks for $1,000, or $100 each.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have warned businesses that they’ll be slapped with hefty fines if caught jacking up prices on face masks, hand sanitizer and other supplies during the coronavirus outbreak. One Manhattan hardware store was hit with a violation over the weekend for selling three-packs of wipes for nearly $40 and disinfectant sprays for nearly $20.

At a Sunday press conference, de Blasio called the incident “unacceptable,” adding, “This is a crisis, not a time to profit.”

An emergency disaster declaration made by Gov. Cuomo on Saturday gives the state the power to investigate and punish coronavirus-related price gouging, among other things.

A post on the Brooklyn Craigslist page advertised 96 oz of hand sanitizer for $90 in Gowanus. Screenshot via Craigslist

The governor announced plans Monday to enlist prisoners at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Washington County to make hand sanitizer for schools, prisons and government agencies. Cuomo said New York State plans to make 10,000 gallons of sanitizer per week using prison labor.

McNair said he’s worried about working in the coffee shop and interacting with customers, but he doesn’t know if he’ll begin wearing the masks yet or if he’ll wait to see how things develop.

“It’s up in the air,” McNair said. “I’m definitely concerned. I’m going to keep up with the numbers and see.”

Update: The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection announced Monday afternoon that, in addition to face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes were temporarily in short supply in the city. The declaration, which expires in 30 days, makes it illegal for stores to drastically increase prices. Stores that violate the order could be fined up to $500 per item. 

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