The United States, and indeed the world, is in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis. The sudden emergence of COVID-19 has left hospitals and manufacturers around the world scrambling, both to support ailing patients as well as to replenish dwindling stocks of key medical supplies such as hand sanitizer, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The American government has enacted a number of policies to address shortages of the medial supplies crucial to combatting the coronavirus. President Donald Trump recently used the Defense Production Act to bolster the nation’s supply of ventilators and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act created a $27 billion emergency fund to purchase and distribute PPE.
But measures to address the dwindling supply of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended hand soaps and sanitizers have curiously been left out of the conversation. As Congress considers additional legislative packages to respond to this public health crisis and the White House identifies other places to apply the Defense Production Act, it is necessary that hand hygiene products top those priority lists.
Americans are well aware of the country’s shortage of ventilators and masks. In New York state alone, the current epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has projected that his state will need 37,000 ventilator beds. As of March 18th, they only had 3,000. Meanwhile, it has become apparent that our nation’s strategic reserve of 12 million respirator masks will not be nearly enough to protect healthcare workers battling the coronavirus. In fact, the shortage of PPE has become so pronounced, the New York Times described it as “dire” at this point.
While not as well publicized, the situation regarding alcohol-based hand sanitizers and disinfectants is similarly concerning. Many Americans have likely noticed the product absent from their local store shelves or have heard stories of online merchants reselling hand sanitizer for significant markups online. But they may not be aware that hospitals are also having difficulty sourcing such products. Supply shortages have become so pronounced that the U.S. government has resorted to asking other countries for help in supplying hand sanitizer. This is all the more concerning when you consider that using soaps and hand sanitizer are an essential measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC recommends washing your hands for least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. When that is not an option, they recommend using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol as an alternative.
In hospitals, the standards are much more stringent. As a physician, I cannot stress enough the importance of hand hygiene in preventing the spread of infection. the CDC estimates that healthcare providers might need to clean their hands as many as 100 times During a 12-hour shift, depending on the number of patients and intensity of care. In the high volume setting of an emergency room, the front line in the battle against COVID-19, the ability to quickly use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to disinfect between triaging patients is especially important.
That’s why the government must empower the private sector to meet the needs of the American public and our health care industry for hand sanitizer. The major players in the industry are ready to lead the way and meet this demand, but they are currently producing as much as they can without government assistance. Congress and the White House officials responsible for overseeing the coronavirus response must ensure that the resources are there to ramp up production capacity. Otherwise, we run the risk of overwhelming even the most significant investments in expanding treatment capacity and procuring protective equipment.
Ventilators, PPE and other medical supplies are invaluable in the fight against COVID-19, but they are only half of the solution. Hand hygiene and disinfectant supplies are also a critical resource in the fight against this virus. As we continue to fight this battle together, we cannot afford to lose ground by inadequately producing and supplying any of these critical products.
Dr. Steven F. Hotze, M.D., is the founder and CEO of the Hotze Health & Wellness Center and the author of Hormones, Health, and Happiness: A Natural Medical Formula for Rediscovering Youth with Bioidentical Hormones.