What Americans Bought to Prepare for the Pandemic

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Health/household: Rubbing alcohol

Sales of rubbing alcohol rose 277% in mid-March over the same period in 2019, according to the Nielsen survey. Besides being good for disinfecting cuts and scrapes (if you don’t mind the sting), rubbing alcohol can be mixed with aloe vera gel for a do-in-yourself hand sanitizer. It is generally available in two strengths, 99% and 70% isopropyl alcohol (the latter diluted with purified water). The CDC recommends using the 70% version to disinfect high-touch surfaces, including smartphones (do not mix alcohol with bleach, as a dangerous chemical reaction could occur).

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Health/household: Hydrogen peroxide

According to the CDC, “Commercially available 3% hydrogen peroxide is a stable and effective disinfectant when used on inanimate surfaces.” The agency recommends cleaning those surfaces first with soap and water, then pouring or spraying on the peroxide and wiping it with a paper towel or sponge. Frequent use on marble countertops might cause damage, and it can discolor some surfaces, so it should be used with care.

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Health/household: Cold and flu remedies

These over-the-counter medicines saw a 159% growth in sales between March of last year and March of this year, according to Nielsen. Though none of them will combat COVID-19 directly, they can ease symptoms in less serious cases. Decongestants can help clear airways, and acetaminophen (like Tylenol) can treat fever and body aches.

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Health/household: Soap

Those surveyed by Coupon Follow bought 32% more soap than usual with the pandemic in mind, and according to Nielsen’s survey, there was a 183% increase in soap sales this March over last. Such increases are hardly surprising given that virtually every public health authority stresses the same thing over and over: The single most important thing we can do to avoid infection — more important even that wearing masks — is to wash our hands frequently.

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Health/household: Face masks and/or gloves

It may seem surprising that face masks don’t show up at all on the Nielsen list, but remember that it tracked buying habits for one week in mid-March, and until early April, CDC guidance recommended masks only for health care professionals or those who were already infected by the virus. Coupon Follow, on the other hand, notes that 30% of consumers it polled bought masks and/or gloves, in quantities amounting to 47% more than usual.