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Panic buying depletes store shelves across county

by Emry Dinman
Staff Writer | March 15, 2020 10:21 PM

As customers rush to area stores, emptying shelves of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and meat, several big box outlets are limiting their hours so staff can restock their inventory.

In a press release, state health officials pleaded with shoppers to limit their purchases in order to leave supplies for those who need them most.

“But before you sweep the store aisles clean of these items, you might want to remind yourself of the harm you’re causing to yourself and your community by overstocking,” the state Department of Health wrote in a statement. “The more you overstock those supplies, the less is available for your sick neighbors, and for doctors, dentists, and emergency response personnel.”

According to the state DOH, overstocking — not a disrupted supply chain — is the main cause of the current shortages.

Winco, which has implemented a limit on the number of toilet paper and paper towel products customers can buy, will limit hours to 6 a.m. to midnight to allow freight teams to restock depleted shelves.

Walmarts across the country, including those in Moses Lake and Ephrata, are limiting their hours to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., closing an hour early as of Sunday. The Othello location normally operates during those hours and will not be closing early.

In a statement, Walmart wrote that cutting back hours would allow associates additional time to clean and stock products.

“We have increased associate focus on cleaning and have dedicated an associate to maintain key areas throughout the day,” Walmart wrote. “We’ve seen increased foot traffic, so we’re sending additional cleaning supplies for use in places like the registers and on shopping carts.”

Safeway stores, as well as major chains in Quincy such as IGA and Akins Fresh Market, will be operating with normal business hours for the time being.

Their shelves have not been left unaffected; Ephrata’s Safeway still has healthy supplies of produce, they are also out of toilet paper, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer.

While larger stores have seen depleting stocks, many alternative stores, such as gas stations and carnicerias, have not experienced the same level of panic shopping and still have supplies.

“We want the public to be assured that if they will return to their normal pace of grocery shopping that there will be an adequate supply of products for their consumption,” said Jan Gee, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association and its educational foundation.

“We also want the public to be assured of the fact that the grocery stores are taking extensive measures to reduce any opportunity for contamination in our stores, and with the public’s cooperation, we will continue to provide a clean, virus-free environment stocked with healthy and fresh foods for everyone,” Gee continued.