Face masks and hand sanitizer are flying off the shelves, but do they work?

Carmel Market District out of hand sanitizer. (WTHR photo)
Jade Cunningham
Published:
Updated:

METAIRIE, La. (KWWL) — With people on heightened alert over the Coronavirus, many locally are taking preventative measures. So much so, that items like hand sanitizers are tough to find.

"Big shortage," said Brian Guidry at Majoria Drugs on Metairie Road. "We haven't had any face masks in three-to-four weeks now. We continually order them, but the wholesalers have none to sell us."

"We are out of all face masks," said Michele Vanderbrook at NOLA Discount Pharmacy. "Also hand sanitizer, we ran out today. The last of it is gone and we can't get any more."

"Last week we ordered three cases to be delivered and this morning there were three bottles of Purell," Guidry said. "As I look at the shelf, they're gone already."

The reason why? The Coronavirus.

"People are coming in constantly asking if we have face masks, if we have hand sanitizer, anything else that we know that may help prevent it," Vanderbrook said.

Is hand sanitizer effective at preventing the spread of the virus though?

"It's really about the percent alcohol and the quantity," said Dr. Julio Figueroa, LSU Health's Infectious Diseases Chief.

When buying hand sanitizer, look at the alcohol percentage. One with at least 60 percent will do the trick.

"There are certain bacteria and viruses that are not handled by hand sanitizers and that usually requires hand washing," Dr. Figueroa added.

Coronavirus isn't one of them. So, when used correctly, sanitizer can work just as well as soap and water.

"You have to get enough, so it has to cover your entire hand," he added. "And get all the spaces between the fingers, you want to get above and below, you really want to get it all over so it feels like you've covered everything then you want to wait for it to dry."

How often should you use it? Just like hand-washing, you want to use it frequently.

"Right before you eat, after you go to the bathroom," Dr. Figueroa says. "If you're in a public situation I'd do it fairly frequently, maybe once every 10-15 minutes, something like that."

With bottles in high demand across town, if you see one, grab it and use it frequently.

"There's nothing wrong with being cautious," Guidry said.

"You sneeze wash your hands, don't drink after people," Vanderbrook said.

And if an empty shelf greets you, don't panic. Because whether it's soapy water or this gel-like substance, both work well in keeping the germs away and you feeling healthy.

When it comes to hand washing there are also things to keep in mind.

"It's the friction in addition to having enough soap in the hands," says Dr. Figueroa. "You have to go in between the fingers and every surface you can and doing it long enough. The recommendation is 20 seconds."

One way to know you've washed your hands long enough is by singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Happy Birthday" twice. And after you've washed your hands in a public restroom, be sure to use a paper towel to turn the faucet off and open the door since germs can be found on those items.

Going back to hand sanitizers, foam ones work just as well as the gel ones. However, know that while you may think you have a lot in your hand, a lot of it is air so you probably don't have enough.