By Maria Rocha-Buschel
State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation on Tuesday that would address price gouging of consumer medical supplies during a public health emergency in order to penalize retailers that take advantage of concerns about coronavirus and increase prices by more than 10% on products such as face masks and hand sanitizer.
“It’s said that after the storm come the vultures – and that’s exactly what could happen here if we don’t act now to stop price gouging in anticipation of the coronavirus outbreak here in New York,” Hoylman said. “Profiting off fear of disease is unconscionable. We can’t allow shady businesses to hike prices on the supplies New Yorkers need to stay safe and healthy, like hand sanitizer and face masks.”
Hoylman also noted that healthcare professionals have discouraged the use of face masks.
“The U.S. Surgeon General has made it clear that face masks won’t help healthy people avoid COVID-19: the best way to stay healthy is by washing hands regularly and getting the flu shot,” he added.
Under the new legislation, the New York State Attorney General could penalize retailers, manufactures and distributors who increase prices on these products. Prices on face masks and hand sanitizer have increased significantly in neighborhoods in Manhattan, including the Upper West Side and Chinatown.
The legislation would specifically amend the state’s price gouging statute in order to establish that an “unconscionable excessive price” is a price more than 10% higher than before the public health emergency began. The bill would ban stores from selling consumer medical supplies, including over-the-counter medications, hand sanitizer and face masks, at an unconscionably excessive price during a public health emergency.
The Attorney General would also be able to enforce a civil penalty of up to $25,000 against businesses that have been proven to have participated in price gouging.
In other countries where coronavirus is most prevalent, Amazon announced that third-party listings have unfairly charged customers for medical supplies, including in Italy and Australia.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced on Wednesday morning that three family members of the Westchester resident who was diagnosed with coronavirus earlier this week have also tested positive and two contacts have been transferred to Bellevue for testing. The three family members of the Westchester resident who tested positive include his two children and his wife, and all three remain in home isolation in Westchester.
The Westchester resident works at a law firm in Manhattan. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said on Tuesday that this is the first case of community spread of the disease in New York City, meaning that the source of the infection is unknown. The individual is currently hospitalized at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan and is in severe condition.
NYC Health+Hospitals is working closely with the Health Department, which has also conducted outreach and offered guidance to city hospitals and health providers about how to identify, isolate and inform the city about individuals who might need evaluation for COVID-19. The city’s Public Health Laboratory can now test for the infection, which allows for shorter turnaround time for test results compared to when samples had to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s headquarters in Atlanta, and the Health Department this week will lower the threshold for people who get tested so that person-to-person transmission can be detected.
The infection can lead to fever, cough or shortness of breath and while come infections have resulted in severe illness or death, others have milder symptoms. The city is recommending that if individuals who have traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea are experiencing fever, coughing or shortness of breath, they should stay home and avoid contact with others, and contact a health provider and tell them about their travel history. All New Yorkers are encouraged to cover their coughs and sneezes with their elbows and now hands, wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available and avoid touching their face with unwashed hands.