CALGARY -- Among the many essentials being sought to aid in the fight against COVID-19, hand sanitizer has become a precious commodity because of its off-label claim about its effectiveness in killing viruses.

Unfortunately, all those empty shelves in stores across the country means many people are trying to take advantage of the hysteria and offer the product at twice, three times or even 10 times higher than the regular price.

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GOJO Industries, the parent company of Purell, took steps to address the spike in demand for their products as soon as they heard of the developing situation in December 2019.

As a result, it says it has "increased production significantly" to ensure customers receive the products they're looking for.

"Our GOJO team members are working hard to ensure people have the PURELL and GOJO products they need. We have a demand surge preparedness team that runs in the background all the time, who have been fully activated and are coordinating our response to the increase in demand," said Samantha Williams, senior director of corporate communications at GOJO, in a prepared statement.

The company says it's also aware of the price gouging that is taking place on the Internet and it is taking appropriate steps to stop it.

"We feel strongly that there is no place for price gouging, especially during times of elevated public health concern," Wilson says. "Amazon has reported that the abnormal pricing being seen on their website is being offered by third-party sellers, not Amazon, and that they are investigating and removing these offers as quickly as they can."

While the increase in demand for hand sanitizer at their factories is still significant, Wilson says it is "still below historic levels."

"That said, orders have increased very significantly in the past several days. We stepped up production in January and are continuing to bring additional capacity online to meet this heightened demand should it continue."

'Not all hand sanitizers created equal'

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, says hand sanitizer is an effective tool in preventing the spread of germs that cause illness, but people need to be sure the products they buy are effective.

"Particularly, we are looking for one that's got 60 to 70 per cent alcohol content minimum," she said.

She says sanitizer is also more effective when it's used on hands that aren't visibly dirty.

"If somebody has hands that are visibly dirty, hand sanitizer isn't that effective and, at that point in time, we recommend that people wash their hands with soap and water. But if hands aren't visibly dirty, hand sanitizer is a really good way of getting rid of viruses on the surface of the skin."

Hinshaw says residents of Alberta also have an added disadvantage when it comes to skin care.

"We do live in a dry province, and so it's also important that if people are washing their hands with soap and water regularly, they are using moisturizers as well because if skin gets dry and cracked, it can be more difficult to clean it."


Key to proper handwashing is time

While it's important to use the proper type of hand sanitizer, Hinshaw says there aren't the same specifications when it comes to soap. It's more about the time people spend in the sink.

"People should really, if they are washing their hands regularly, should be washing their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, 30 seconds if possible and it's really that contact time where people are using soap and scrubbing their hands that makes the most difference on how effective handwashing is."

GOJO emphasizes they are doing all they can to bring as much of their product to Canadian markets.

"We are working with Canadian regulators to expedite shipping product into Canada more efficiently. We hope to have this resolved very soon."