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New York will use low-wage prison labor to make hand sanitizer

The inmates can make 100,000 gallons per week

UK Protects Against Coronavirus
Shelves are emptied of hand sanitizer in the UK.
Photo by Matthew Horwood / Getty Images

Faced with shortages of hand sanitizer amid the new coronavirus outbreak, New York state has decided to make its own. The hand sanitizer will be made by inmates at correctional facilities, said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced the product’s development at a press conference on Monday.

The inmates can make 100,000 gallons per week, according to Cuomo. As the coronavirus outbreak in the US has spread, hand sanitizer has been flying off the shelves, while price gouging has pushed prices sky-high.

New York declared a state of emergency related to the outbreak on Saturday. So far, 142 people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. To prevent the spread of the disease, public health officials are asking people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. (Alcohol-free hand sanitizers are not recommended for use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

New York’s hand sanitizer, Cuomo says, will be 75 percent alcohol and will be made available to government agencies, prisons, schools, and transit agencies. The first area to get the hand sanitizer will be New Rochelle, which has a large number of cases.

The hand sanitizer will be made by Corcraft, the part of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision that manufactures products from license plates to pillows. The average wage at these facilities was about $0.65 / hour in 2015–2016, according to reporting from Gothamist.

Prisons are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, including the current one.

Additional reporting by Esther Cohen