Supplies to Diagnose and Treat COVID-19 in Short Supply: Distillers and Prisons May Help

Mar 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals in Virginia continue to plead for protective equipment as they treat 254 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  Hundreds of doctors and nurses signed a petition asking the governor to solve the problem.  They also launched a drive to get masks, gloves and other supplies from schools, labs, restaurants and businesses into hospitals. 

Meanwhile, pharmacies are struggling to keep up with demand. Distilleries are doing their part, and prison factories could play a role in protecting inmates and staff from COVID-19. 

Timberlake pharmacist John Plante
Credit Timberlake Pharmacy

If you’ve been to the drug store lately, you probably know that some things are in short supply.  At Timberlakes in Charlottesville, owner John Plante says he keeps running out of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, masks, rubbing alcohol and thermometers.

“Our wholesaler is one of the biggest in the country, but nobody can keep up with the demand right now," says John Plante, a pharmacist and owner of Charlottesville's historic Timberlake Drug Store.

"We get all the items that people aren’t screaming for every day, and all the disinfectant things trickle in, and they’re gone in no time, and you might have to wait a while before you get another trickle.”

To complicate matters, he says, some customers discover that products are not what they expect.  Thermometers, for example, are digital and can read body temperature from the forehead, ear canal or underarm.

“We have a little older clientele that would still like to have a mercury thermometer that you just shake and stick in your mouth,”  Plante explains.

Those are no longer available.  Likewise, Plate says,  methods of controlling fever have changed.

“Ibuprofen and acetaminophen and aspirin have always been the three, and now they’re debating with the corona virus whether ibuprofen is okay to use, and I’m telling you, one official says yes, and one official says no.”  

Depending on your medical history, your doctor may steer you away from one medication or another. 

Meanwhile, the market is moving to address shortages.  Here in Virginia, distillers of whiskey and gin have shifted production and are making hand sanitizer, while inmates at state prisons have begun producing thousands of protective masks that could limit the spread of coronavirus behind bars.