Coronavirus leads to some shortages in Washington County

No masks for sale in Berlin drug stores, Staples out of Acer Chromebook model

by Guy Page

March 2, 2020 – Central Vermont residents appear to be either unaware or uncaring of the U.S. Surgeon General’s plea to stop buying masks to ward off the coronavirus.

At a large, national pharmacy in Berlin, all the masks and bottles of hand sanitizer are sold out. A pharmacist said Sunday afternoon the few boxes the store does receive are quickly sold. The chain has redirected most of the available masks “out west,” where the need is considered more immediate. The problem is not one of supply – the mask-producing companies are working around the clock, he said – but one of skyrocketing demand.

Shoppers are scouring the hardware aisles for painters’ masks, the pharmacist said.

At the nearby CVS drug store on the Barre-Montpelier Road, a sign noted that masks are out of stock. So were the alcohol wipes. Gloves and other protective products were available, however.

Seen from the bigger picture, these efforts at self-protection are counter-productive, the U.S. Surgeon-General said. “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted Saturday morning.

After Clerk of the Vermont House Bill MaGill walked up to the press gallery in accoustically sensitive Representatives’ Hall Well Friday and told the assembled reporters that the loud clicking of their laptop keys made it difficult to hear lawmakers’ answers to the Act 250 roll call vote, the Vermont Daily Chronicle decided to shop for a new, quieter Acer Chromebook laptop at the Staples in Berlin on Sunday afternoon. Alas, the store had none of the new, top-of-the-line model in stock, nor could any be found for delivery. Store personnel laid the blame squarely on coronavirus-related supply problems. They gave the Chronicle a toll-free number for the Staples call center. It, too, confirmed there were none in stock, and added that there are no plans to restock it.

According to the Feb. 20 Financial Times, it will take weeks for Taiwan-based Acer to recover full production after up to a third of assembly workers didn’t show up for work on some days in February. The situation has improved but other variables – transport, logistics bottlenecks, packaging materials – also may slow delivery, an Acer official told the Financial Times.

In other Vermont-coronavirus news:

An employee at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the Lebanon, NH hospital serving much of the White River Valley area, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a 3/2 report in the Valley News. The patient is on home isolation.

Burlington International Airport is stepping up its cleaning and disinfecting efforts, WCAX reported today.

The CDC said that “measures that are not commensurate with contemporary U.S. standards of care” may be needed if there is a prolonged shortage of N95 respirators (traditional paper face masks) in U.S. hospitals, according to a statement on the Vermont Department of Health website. The statement offers several recommended measures in a crisis scenario, including state and local governments forcing facilities to share.

More information on the coronavirus, see the CDC website.

Cover photo: protective masks are sold out at the Berlin, VT CVS drug store. Vermont Daily Chronicle photo