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Virus fueled shopping frenzy leads to shortages in ABQ stores

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Theresa Padilla pushed a shopping cart around the Costco store on the West Side on Friday. The cart was heavy with six flats of water, and little room for anything else.

“I was worried about the coronavirus and shortages of water and some other items, like paper towels, toilet paper and hand sanitizer, which they are out of, so I guess I’m going to have to go to some other stores,” she said.

Members at the West Side Costco load up on bottled water Friday, which had just been restocked after running out. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

While there is not a single case of the COVID-19 coronavirus in New Mexico, Padilla has adopted the attitude, as many people have, that “you just never know,” so grab ’em while you can.

In their concern about possible shortages, people are stockpiling items and causing the very thing that they’re worried about – at least in some stores.

A survey of Albuquerque stores on Friday did reveal that hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes were in short supply. Water, as well as the other items sought by Padilla were mostly available at those stores.

The shelves at Target at Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25 were running low of sanitizing wipes on Friday and were completely empty of hand sanitizer. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

At the West Side Costco store, a sign was taped to empty shelves: “Due to circumstances out of our control we are currently out of toilet paper and paper towels. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

To be clear, they were not technically out of hand sanitizer because it’s a product they don’t normally carry, a Costco pharmacy worker said.

While Costco had been out of bottled water, according to a store associate, several semi trailer loads of water had just been put out and were quickly being purchased by members.

In a call with investors this week, Costco Wholesale Corp.’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti described the buying frenzy as “off the charts” throughout the U.S.

Some supermarket chains, like Kroger Co., are now placing limits on certain items such as cold and flu-related products to five each per shopping trip.

Theresa Padilla pushes a cart weighed down with six flats of bottled water at Costco’s West Side location on Friday. The store had sold out of paper towels and toilet paper. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

A survey of Albuquerque stores showed that nearly all were out of hand sanitizer, with some stores running low on paper towels, toilet paper and sanitizing wipes. Bottled water appeared to be plentiful at those locations.

The Associated Press reported that the sale of hand sanitizer in the U.S. soared 73% in the four weeks ending Feb. 22 compared to the same period a year ago, according to market research firm Nielsen, while sales of thermometers spiked 47% during that same period.

Online purchases of toilet paper have nearly doubled and non-perishable items like canned goods rose nearly 70% during the January and February period, according to Adobe Analytics.

Among those canned goods suppliers, New Jersey-based Campbell Soup Co. said it is increasing production to meet increased store orders.

Instacart reported a sales surge for pantry items such as powdered milk and canned goods, as well as personal care products like hand sanitizer and vitamins. Sales were up tenfold across the country but business was particularly heavy in California, Washington, Oregon and New York, all states with confirmed cases of coronavirus and where sales were up twenty-fold over the past week.

In Albuquerque, the Smith’s grocery store at Petroglyph Plaza, Golf Course Road and Paseo del Norte NW, ran out of hand sanitizer two days ago but had plenty of paper products and bottled water on hand, a cashier said.

The Target store at Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25, was out of hand sanitizer, hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol and was running low of disinfecting wipes.

Shelves at the Walmart at Academy and Wyoming NE looked to be about half full where toilet paper was stocked, though paper towels were abundant. Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes could not be found, however.

The Walgreen’s at San Mateo and Montgomery NE was also completely sold of out hand sanitizer but had plenty of the other products on the shelves.

The COVID-19 coronavirus that triggered the spotty buying frenzy is not likely to let up anytime soon as the virus continues to spread.

The death toll in the United States from the virus rose to 15 on Friday, with more than 225 cases confirmed across the country. Pennsylvania has announced its first cases.

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday said 21 people aboard the Grand Princes cruise ship docked off the coast of San Francisco have tested positive for the virus, with thousands of passengers and crew still to be tested.

Johns Hopkins University on Friday estimated that more than 101,000 people have been infected worldwide. At least 3,400 people have died, the majority of them in China.

President Donald Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to combat the virus.


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