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'Panic' Buying Hits US Stores

Shoppers stock up amid COVID-19 fears
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2020 9:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Plan to go shopping today? Get ready for a lineup. Multiple media outlets are reporting on big crowds nationwide at chain stores including Target, Costco, and Walmart. "We saw the line around the block and we thought the world had gone mad," a Costco shopper in Lawndale, Calif., tells USA Today. "Before it was a scare. Now it's real." With COVID-19 spreading, 41 Americans dead, and President Trump declaring a national emergency, shoppers are eager to stock up on food staples, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, bottled water, and other items. For more:

  • Item limits: Major retailers are limiting how many key items each customer can buy, the Hartford Courant reports. Target, for example, has limited hand sanitizer, various wipes, and toilet paper to one per customer.

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  • Empty shelves? What's left in stock seems to depend on the store. A Walmart in Gardena, Calif., "looked like a deserted warehouse" by mid-morning, says USA Today, but a Costco shopper in South Carolina says items were available despite lineups. "I think it's kind of ridiculous," he says, "and I think the media is responsible for it."
  • Toilet paper: Big retailers tell the New York Times that toilet paper has only been out of stock for a few hours—or maybe a day or two—at a time. Manufacturers are increasing production, but only up to a point, to avoid creating a market glut after the surge dies down.
  • Chill out: Law enforcement is urging people to stay calm. "Please don't call 911 because people are cutting in front of you in line," a sheriff's office tweeted after a false alarm about fights outside a Costco in Santa Clarita, Calif.
  • Fewer hours: Some 24-hour stores are trimming hours to let employees clean and restock. For example, Wegmans tells the Buffalo News that eight such stores will shutter between midnight and 6am.
  • Logical? Fears of possible quarantine, and the notion of social distancing, appear to be driving the panic—but it's not all logical. "By going to the store, you’re putting yourself in a position to expose other people or get exposed," a shopper tells the Times. "That doesn’t seem like common sense."
  • A rare event: Logical or not, it's an eye-popping story. A Woodman's manager says the last such panic was Y2K, while a Foodcellar manager tells Fox News that "I haven't seen it like this since the morning of 9/11."
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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