As a communicable disease passed on by water droplets from infected patients, COVID-19 is a highly contagious illness that is best battled with social distancing and persistent hand washing. As a result, antibacterial hand sanitizer gels have become a hotly sought-after commodity as residents across the globe battle to keep themselves and those around them safe. There've been some incredible examples of community witnessed as citizens group together to wait-out the crisis, with heartwarming videos of quarantined residents singing on their balconies filling Twitter feeds this week. Unfortunately, however, as per Newton’s Third Law, for every inspirational act of kindness, there’s an equal and opposite act of foolishness, as seen in the example of two brothers who attempted to spin the outbreak into a get-rich-quick scheme.
The United States announced its first death from COVID-19 on March 1 in the State of Washington. As the news reached Hixson, Tennessee, two brothers, Matt and Noah Colvin, hatched a plan to cash in on the situation, reports the New York Times. The following day Noah headed out in an SUV to clean out stores’ stocks of hand sanitizer in a recon mission that would last three days, cruising across 1,300-miles (2,090 kilometers) in search of the precious gel.
Matt meanwhile stayed home to launch a vital platform for their coronavirus cash cow – an Amazon store that would thrift the sanitizing products for prices ranging from $8 to $70. He also received several pallets of antibacterial wipes and hand gel that he ordered from the Internet, totaling almost 20,000 sanitizing products when pooled with Noah’s supplies.
Unfortunately for the Colvin brothers, this pandemic profiteering came to a swift end when Amazon made the move to pull all sales of sanitizing gels, wipes and face masks from the website. Amazon, which has warned customers that delays are likely as its warehouses are rapidly running out of household supplies, threatened to suspend sellers and warned if they continued flogging sanitizing products at a premium, they’d lose their accounts. The online auction website eBay has also acted on profiteering attempts in the US, banning all sales of masks or sanitizers in the region.
The action by Amazon left the Colvin brothers in a bit of a bind as they found themselves landed with 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer, leaving them all sterilized up with nowhere to go. “If I can make a slight profit, that’s fine,” Matt said of his situation in an interview with The New York Times, who broke the story. “But I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me.”
Somewhat unsurprisingly, sympathy for their situation has been in short supply and local authorities have not been best pleased either. After the story broke, the Tennessee Attorney General's office served the brothers with a cease-and-desist letter, before launching an investigation for price gouging.
In a follow-up article, NYT author Jack Nicas revealed that the brothers have been receiving hate mail and threats. The brothers' initial response to their predicament was to consider local commerce, but, in the wake of the somewhat irate response to the story, they decided to wash their hands of the scandal by donating two-thirds of the 17,700 bottles to their local church in Tennesse, while the Tennessee AG's office took a third to give to their Kentucky counterparts to distribute.
This story serves as a sobering reminder to think of others before you load up with that 54th pack of toilet rolls and other items you don't need but may be life-saving for others.