UC Berkeley lab mass produces, distributes hand sanitizer in response to COVID-19 pandemic

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Campus graduate student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have produced more than 900 bottles of hand sanitizer for San Francisco County Jail inmates and other groups in need to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Following the shelter-in-place order that went into effect March 17, Abidi and Hao started the effort after initially wanting to produce hand sanitizer for friends and family. According to Abidi, once they understood how simple the formula was, they decided to produce the hand sanitizer on a “citywide scale” for those in need.

“We very quickly realized that it’s a desperate time and people are desperate for hand sanitizer,” Hao said. “As soon as we realized the need was there, we immediately started ramping up.”

They have since distributed hand sanitizer to about 100 organizations, including the San Francisco County Jail, the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, hospices, senior homes and groups in health care working on the front lines, among others.

Abidi added that both he and Hao are wholly dedicated to producing as much hand sanitizer as possible and delivering it to as many people as possible. According to Hao, they have both put all other work aside to focus on the project.

While they are glad to be able to help the community, both Abidi and Hao expressed their frustration with the alleged lack of government support in providing necessary sanitation products during the pandemic.

“We don’t think this responsibility should have been on us,” Hao said. “This is the responsibility of the government who has failed so disastrously on helping its people during this pandemic.”

Hao said she and Abidi are hoping other organizations will be inspired to follow their example, especially since the agents for making the hand sanitizer are relatively inexpensive and accessible. Because of this and community support, the project’s turnaround time for delivery is generally a few days.

According to San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, the work the lab has done has not gone unappreciated. He added that with the project’s help, the San Francisco County Jail was able to give every inmate and staff member a bottle of hand sanitizer and has recently requested 50-70 gallons of refills.

Miyamoto added that safety is the jail’s most important goal and that receiving the hand sanitizer is one of the policies the jail has put in place to maintain the safety of its inmates.

“It’s just a whole new world for us here and we are just trying to get accustomed to this new reality of COVID-19,” Miyamoto said. “We are so thankful for the help and assistance in getting something vital in combating the spread of coronavirus to people that sometimes are marginalized and overlooked.”

Contact Gigi Nibbelink at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @giginibbelink.