As coronavirus fears spread, some shoppers stocking up
For many shoppers this weekend, a routine trip to Costco required braving another kind of crowd: people snatching up supplies in fear of finding themselves in coronavirus-related isolation.
As more cases of the new virus, known officially as novel coronavirus or COVID-19, are confirmed in the United States, people in the Bay Area appear to be flocking to grocery and wholesale stores to stock up on dry foods, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and other goods.
At a Costco Wholesale store in Santa Clara off Coleman Avenue, many shoppers came for their usual Sunday trip, while others exited the store with shopping carts or flatbed hand trucks stacked with cases of water, toilet paper, pet food and other dry goods.
Wally McGee pushed a flatbed cart with one hand, piled with toilet paper and paper towels, through the parking lot. With his other hand, the father of two dragged a shopping cart laden with diapers, instant oatmeal, breakfast crackers and boxed macaroni and cheese.
McGee decided to stock up for his family and his in-laws after hearing from family in Tracy that the Costco in their area was running low on supplies.
“I have kids, so if something happens, I don’t want to go out,” said McGee on Sunday afternoon, wearing an N95 face mask. (Federal health officials say healthy people do not need to wear masks, which are most effective at preventing sick people from spreading their illness.)
Martha Villanueva, a San Jose resident who was making her usual Costco trip to buy cat food, said customers were quickly clearing the shelves of bottled water, toilet paper and disinfectant.
“I think people are creating their own panic,” said Villanueva. “We did buy another pack of toilet paper — but we’re halfway through the one at home.”
Most of the more than 80,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus are in mainland China, where the virus originated. But the disease has quickly spread in countries like Iran, South Korea and Italy, prompting a sobering warning from the Centers for Disease Control last week urging Americans to prepare for an outbreak as cases appeared in Northern California and other parts of the nation.
People seem to have been stocking up since that announcement, said Abel Zuniga, the assistant general manager for a Costco on Senter Road in San Jose.
Because of increased demand, the store has had to stock more shelf-stable items like toilet paper, paper towels, water, canned food, rice and noodles, said Zuniga.
“It’s been going on for four days now,” said Zuniga. “It’s not just Costcos in San Jose, but the entire region.”
It was also a busy weekend for public health officials in the United States.
On Sunday, officials confirmed five new cases in Northern California: three in Santa Clara County, bringing the total cases to seven, and two health care workers who fell ill after they were exposed to a patient in Solano County.
Earlier in the day, Rhode Island confirmed its first case of coronavirus in a person in their 40s who traveled to Italy in mid-February.
Washington state on Saturday confirmed two cases of coronavirus, including a man from the
Seattle area who died, the first death from the illness in the U.S.
Santa Clara County also confirmed its third and fourth cases of coronavirus on Friday and Saturday. The third case involved a woman who was hospitalized for the illness without having traveled to China or having contact with someone who has. A woman who lived with her, who did not show symptoms, became the county’s fourth case.
Officials Saturday said the risk to the general public is still low, but older and medically fragile individuals are at higher risk if the disease continues to spread.
That’s why C. Rogers, a Santa Clara resident, was at the Santa Clara Costco on Sunday, wearing an N-95 face mask and pushing a cart stacked with several cases of bottled water.
The 82-year-old Santa Clara resident said she’s particularly worried now that Santa Clara County has four confirmed cases of the virus.
“I had to look around town and come here three times before I could get water, and finally I got water today,” said Rogers.