In early March, Kevin Culhane, co-owner of Honeyville, made a call to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: The coronavirus was coming to Colorado, and people would need hand sanitizer.
“It was just kind of a blip of an idea,” he said.
A month later, Honey House Distillery had an FDA-approved hand sanitizer ready to donate to emergency and health care providers in Southwest Colorado.
Distilleries across the nation have adapted to the coronavirus pandemic by making sanitizer instead of spirits. The FDA made it easy for them by cutting red tape and distributing World Health Organization ingredient guidelines, Culhane said. In La Plata County, the need and appreciation was clear.
“There’s definitely a large need for hand sanitizer right now,” Culhane said. “People are very excited. ... We’re glad to supply it, and they’re glad that we have it.”
Honeyville, also a honey bottling business, began distributing hand sanitizer April 9. In the first five days, it sent the product to 13 entities in the community, including the Bayfield Marshal’s Office, Durango Police Department, U.S. Forest Service and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.
The Durango Fire Protection District and local banks had been looking for a while to get sanitizer, Culhane said.
While the Sheriff’s Office expects its supply of personal protective equipment last until the end of the current stay-at-home order, April 26, hand sanitizer was running short, said Chris Burke, Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
“It’s possible we could’ve run out before the stay-at-home order was completed,” Burke said.
Officers typically use the hand sanitizer when they have personal contact with a member of the public because they do not know whether the person has been exposed to the virus, Burke said.
“I do it after every traffic stop ... and any personal contact,” Burke said. “I try to sanitize as often as I can.”
Honeville gave the Sheriff’s Office 36 bottles, which should last two weeks.
“I’m hopeful that we’ve got all that we need at this point,” Burke said. “I’m anxious like everybody else to get things back to normal.”
Culhane said the past few weeks were a “whirlwind.” Honeyville brought its product to market in weeks, when other distillery products might take months to develop.
Once the FDA eased requirements, distilleries started “jumping into the hand sanitizer game,” he said. Ingredients went out of stock. The FDA put together a specific, high-grade ingredient list, including 80% ethanol, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide and water, which follows World Health Organization guidelines. Even bottle pumps were scarce.
“The bottle situation, that was even more fun along with the ingredients,” Culhane said. “I’ve never been told no by so many people.”
But the community stepped in. Fort Lewis College chemistry department donated some ingredients. The local UPS representative personally oversaw the bottle shipment to make sure it arrived on time.
“When something like this happens, I think everybody wants to jump in and help whatever way they can,” he said.
In all, the company has 3,000 bottles to distribute in La Plata County before they resort to filling honey bear bottles with the sanitizer.
They plan to prioritize first responders and keep bottles on reserve for hospitals in the area. Then they plan to give to critical businesses such as nursing homes and primary care providers, or sell to members of the public.
“We’ve seen a tremendous outpouring (of support) from the community as far as the donations,” Burke said, particularly City Market and CJ’s Diner. “There are so many others. I can’t thank them enough for all that they’ve done during this difficult time.”