It’s become a ritual as hardened as the daily press briefings in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Each day for the last two weeks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has held a “Red Room”: a news conference to update the public on the seemingly inexorable spread of coronavirus.
The number of confirmed cases has grown considerably since the virus made its presence known in New York state. Each case has followed another at a steady pace, steady enough for the governor to declare a state of emergency after two people in Saratoga County tested positive.
The pattern of inexorability was broken Monday when Cuomo announced the state was going into the hand-sanitizer business. In these turbulent times, it was still something of a shock to hear that a crew of prison inmates at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, Washington County, will manufacture state-sanctioned hand sanitizer with the brand “NYS Clean.”
The state will produce up to 100,000 gallons of the sanitizer each week to slow the spread of COVID-19, Cuomo said. The sanitizer will be distributed to schools, municipalities, prisons, government agencies and the state’s most impacted or high-risk communities free of charge.
But don’t expect to see it on the shelves of your favorite grocery store or pharmacy. NYS Clean will not be available to the public. And that should not sit well with the public in the face of reports about hand-sanitizer shortages and growing demand for the gel.
Like the rest of the world, New York state is struggling to contain and mitigate coronavirus, but is competing with the companies that make hand-sanitizer an answer? NYS Clean probably looks good on paper. It might be good for the inmates. Indeed, we hope it’s one of those Cloud-8 concepts that somehow works. But the term “last-ditch effort” feels close behind. And some thought should be given to selling the product to the public. The Red Room is running out of ideas.