Hand sanitizer shortages hit Austin stores, H-E-B limiting purchases

As fear of a coronavirus outbreak grows, people in Austin are stocking up on supplies. On Monday afternoon at Tarrytown Pharmacy, a few shelves were noticeably empty. 

“I would say that there's no more masks to fly off the shelf, so those are definitely gone. Hand sanitizers, a lot more people are buying those. Gloves, a little bit more purchasing,” said James Cong, director of clinical affairs at Tarrytown Pharmacy.

Fear of a potential coronavirus outbreak spread faster than many store managers could stock the shelves. Face masks were first to go. Hand sanitizer was next. 

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“Any place I've been, there has not been any. Yes, so that's an issue,” said Kathy Reiff who stopped at the pharmacy Monday.

Because of supply shortages, certain stores are placing limits on the number of products customers can buy. 

H-E-B released a statement that reads:

"Occasionally H-E-B limits product purchases per shopping trip to ensure our customers can find the products they want, when they need them. It is H-E-B’s commitment to meet our customer needs. We are temporarily limiting the purchase of disinfecting sprays, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and hand soap to four units of each product, per transaction. We are in a strong in-stock position and our Partners are continuously replenishing these items throughout the day."

Tarrytown Pharmacy said they ordered 50 bottles of hand sanitizer from a wholesaler this weekend, but only received five and they're already gone. 

“Some of the wholesalers limit you on how many you are able to purchase based on your history of purchasing. That way new people can't enter the market and purchase it all up,” Cong said.

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“I think I bought some of the last Purell off the counters and I'm doubling down on the next month, maybe three months, on some of my medication,” said Reiff.

There’s also a new concern for many: possible medication shortages. 

“When it comes to prescription medications, there is a whole supply chain for it and so there are some uncertainties because a lot of it can come from different areas, not just the United States,” said Cong.  

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That hasn't happened yet, but pharmacists are prepared just in case. 

“We know exactly how much inventory to keep and so we, as a pharmacy, keep inventory that's going to last several months out in anticipation of these cycles,” Cong said.

There could be one positive outcome of the coronavirus panic, as medical professionals said increased handwashing or use of sanitizer could prevent the flu from spreading also.


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“Because coronavirus is often being compared to the flu, a lot more people are getting their flu shots now, even though we're a little bit late into the season, but we still have them available because people are aware that the flu itself has risks to it,” said Cong. 

Pharmacists said if you are unable to find hand sanitizer, soap and water works just as well. 

The U.S. Surgeon General also points out face masks are not necessary for those trying to protect themselves from the virus.