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Phillip Tutor: In search of Purell, and finding none

DIY hand sanitizer

Looking for hand sanitizer? This DIY kit, displayed at the Walgreen's in Golden Springs, may be your best bet.

Few things in Calhoun County today are as rare as Purell, medical-style face masks and Lysol wipes. 

So it’s come to this.

There’s a table just inside the Walgreens in Anniston’s Golden Springs that’s covered by a blue blanket and an odd hodgepodge of products: rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, a bottle of green, generic gel that claims to be “new and improved,” a vial of therapeutic-grade “essential” oil and an empty plastic container. 

A yellow sign dangles from the table.

“DO IT YOURSELF HAND SANITIZER INSTRUCTIONS,” it said.

There are no documented cases of COVID-19 thus far in Alabama, state officials say. But fear of the novel coronavirus is rampant, perhaps even visceral. And that fear — or wise preparations, given your level of concern — has birthed such a consumer panic that barren store shelves reserved for hand sanitizers resemble bread-and-milk aisles during Alabama’s faux snow scares. That Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines still say vigorous hand washing is the preferred option and masks should be conserved for medical professionals and the sick hasn’t lessened the public anxiety.

Want perspective? In the Big Apple, the New York Post has reported that bottles of Purell are selling for $79. Online prices for that highly sought hand sanitizer are even more bizarre: $80 on Amazon and $149 on eBay, Forbes has written. It’s so bad that New York State is producing its own hand sanitizer — production cost: $6.10 a gallon — using inmate labor and fining retailers up to $500 for price gouging.

Available caches of Purell may exist in Calhoun County, but where? Monday afternoon I tried to find a single bottle of Purell but failed, learning what grocery and drug store managers have known for weeks as their orders for new stock have been delayed, limited or perpetually unfulfilled. 

Stop asking, in other words.    

Hence, the Walgreens DIY solution. If your Purell shelves are empty, sell consumers ingredients to make their own and hand out hand-sanitizer recipes printed on pocket-sized paper sheets. Alabama ingenuity, y’all.

Anniston’s Walmart had no DIY displays Monday. It had everything else — Walmart is the world’s largest big-box retailer, after all — but it had no Purell, no medical masks, no Lysol spray bottles, only “Temporarily Out Of Stock” stickers in their place. Its bleach aisle was ransacked. 

An elderly customer approached a Walmart employee:

“Do you have any hand soap?” the customer asked.

The employee found one of the few remaining bottles. 

“Would you believe I had that full this morning?” she said.

What about Purell, the customer asked.

“No, we ain’t got any of that,” she said.

The CVS Pharmacy on Quintard Avenue was Purell-less — but it did have toilet paper, hand wipes and spray cleaners displayed inside the entrance. Crow Drug in Jacksonville had no more Purell, either. Over the mountain, the CVS Pharmacy in Golden Springs was wiped out of Purell and face masks and was limiting how many disinfectants and hand wipes customers could buy. 

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” signs on the empty shelves said.

The Winn-Dixie next door was no different. Martin’s Pharmacy had no Purell. Placards at the Walgreens in Golden Springs placed two-item limits on rubbing alcohol, alcohol wipes, alcohol spray bottles, Lysol, Clorox and Walgreens-brand disinfectant sprays and wipes. The shelves were barren.

“Thank you for understanding,” the signs said. 

 The Purell search was just as fruitless in Oxford. Publix was out. Sam’s Club was out. Supplies of hand sanitizer with the suggested 60 percent-or-higher alcohol content were nearly depleted at both spots. Orange signs at Sam’s Club warned customers: “Sorry for the inconvenience, but due to the outbreak we are limiting this item to a LIMIT OF 2 PER MEMBER.” The big-box did have an ample supply of Lysol and Clorox hand wipes. Small victories in tough times, at least.

And then, there’s vodka.

That wasn’t on the Walgreens DIY recipe. But one of the many substitutes for hand sanitizer that’s moving from internet meme to mainstream media is this: a combination of high-octane vodka and aloe vera gel, which this week made the pages of USA Today. It’s a nutty, if not overly expensive, option that I wouldn’t recommend. 

But if that’s your thing, there’s good news.

I checked with several of the ABC stores in Calhoun County, and they’re well-stocked on vodka. Small victories, indeed.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is a Star columnist. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.