The U.S. Marshals office in New Orleans is getting its hand sanitizer from what just one month ago would have seemed an extremely unlikely source: a local distillery.
Seven Three Distillery on North Claiborne is making hand sanitizer for a number of major clients, including the Marshals office, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and some regional hospitals, plus the general public.
“It’s a strange feeling to see everything turned upside-down," said Erik Morningstar, head distiller. "It’s weird.”
The distillery is using the bottling machine usually used to fill glass bottles with whiskey and rum to instead fill white plastic bottles with ethyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. Twenty employees are working to produce between 300 and 500 gallons of hand sanitizer daily.
Online, a gallon of sanitizer might cost between $50 and $100, plus shipping, which could take a while. Seven Three’s is much cheaper and is available immediately.
The distillery is one of many now doing this. In fact, hundreds of local businesses have pivoted to meet new demands.
As the coronavirus hit the United States last month, hospitals and individuals started buying up all of the hand sanitizer, face masks and protective gear they could get. Those products got harder to find, and hospitals started running out.
Felipe Massa, a business professor at Loyola University, said these are inspiring stories, but they are happening because “we don't have an efficient system that's operating at the level it should be.”
Individuals and businesses are rising to fill a void created by a political trade war with China that has limited the import of medical supplies and other goods.
Massa said that while these local solutions may be innovative, they are not ideal.
“The kind of resource constraint that we're seeing from the government being filled by small entrepreneurs is inefficient,” he said.
Ochsner Health System runs about 20 hospitals in Louisiana. Head of innovation Aimee Quirk said they saw the problem coming.
"The traditional supply chain is so disrupted that we can't count on it meeting all of our needs,” she said.
Ochsner called Michael Dalle Molle, the co-founder of GoodWood NOLA, a fabrication company in Gert Town.
“At first we were a little taken aback. We had never done anything like this,” he said about receiving that call. “But after the first meeting we had with them, it all kind of made sense.”
They already know how to work with plastic and had access to all of the supplies. Now the company and its vendors are employing about 60 people making face shields for Ochsner’s doctors and nurses.
"It's allowing us to keep our doors open,” Dalle Molle said. “We've become an essential business.”
Quirk said while the people at Ochsner are looking forward to when things get back to normal, in the long run, the hospital might consider building more local supply networks so they are more resilient going forward:
“We see it as a potential model for the future.”
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