People flock to local stores, retailers trying to keep up with demand

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TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — It seems like no matter where you go, retailers are out of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

“It’s pretty crazy,” said Kazim Moledina, a shopper at a Central Austin H-E-B. “I guess everyone’s pretty freaked out at the whole coronavirus thing going on and I guess I gotta stock up for it.”

Early Friday morning, Austin Public Health, along with city and county officials, announced the first two cases of the COVID-19 disease. Later in the day, it confirmed an additional case.

Bringing the total to three cases in Travis County as of Friday afternoon.

“Austin and Travis County has joined a seemingly growing number of cities and counties that have positive cases in their area,” Austin Public Health interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott said at a press conference.

For the past week, people have been stocking up on supplies. But Friday morning’s announcement confirming COVID-19 cases has added to the demand stores were already experiencing and outpacing what stores can handle.

One manager at an area supermarket spoke with KXAN off-camera and said they have tripled their orders starting this week. The manager said they are seeing the supplies fly off the shelves as fast as they can stock.

In a letter to the Texas community on Friday, H-E-B said: “Customers should not panic, we have the ability to restock shelves and encourage our customers to remain calm. H-E-B Partners are ready to help slow the spread.”

Empty toilet paper shelves at H-E-B Hancock Center location in central Austin (KXAN/Jacqulyn Powell)

At Wheatsville Co-op, Interim General Manager Niki Nash said their goal is to keep customers safe and calm.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible with our shoppers and letting them the challenges we are having because of the supply and demand factor but our priority is going to be on serving their needs but we’re going to do whatever we can,” she said.

The store is working with its co-op partners to get supplies. Nash said they expect a truck filled with toilet paper to arrive from a Dallas warehouse Saturday.

Shopper Cathy Chapaty said she stopped by Wheatsville on Friday for her normal grocery shopping and saw an increase in customers.

“I come here because it’s chill. Today it is not that chill,” she said. “I can certainly understand how everyone is feeling because this is the first big test that we’ve had in a long time in a country of like feeling like we’re safe — maybe since like 9/11.”

Chapaty said it’s a situation that’s given her some perspective.

“It gives you a chance to look at another person in the eye and say ‘How are you doing?’ ’cause it’s not like it affects me and not you. This affects everybody,” she said.

KXAN reached out to major retailers in hopes of getting a better understanding of the current situation but KXAN has only heard back from a couple at this time.

Target officials said they’re working around the clock to supply the demand. In the meantime, they’re limiting the number of items customers can buy when it comes to things such as cleaning products and certain medications. Randalls is also limiting items and working to replenish shelves as they can.

In a statement to KXAN, Randalls Food Markets representatives said in part: “We are asking customers to respect quantity limits of select, high-demand items like: disinfectant wipes and sprays, hand sanitizers and soaps, cough and cold medications, pain relief, first aid (alcohol and peroxide), and bottled water, to help ensure more customers will also be able to purchase the products that they need. Customers should check with their local store about specific stock levels and purchase limits. As products run low, we are replenishing them just as soon as the supply chain allows.”

H-E-B said on Friday 1,300 trailers were delivering products across the state.

In an emailed statement representatives said: “H-E-B has been preparing for #COVIDー19 & we are in a strong position to keep replenishing shelves. Customers shouldn’t panic, we continue to restock shelves. We encourage preparedness, not stockpiling – please buy what you need & leave some for your neighbor behind you. For the long term, H-E-B is in a good in-stock position on many of the items our customers need and we are working around the clock to restock our shelves. H-E-B is seeing high demand across all of our stores at present, which is causing some temporary challenges with out-of-stocks in key categories, so we have placed purchase limits on these items in effort to make them available to all customers. We encourage customers to check back with us if they cannot find what they need, as we’ll continue to restock our products.”

On Friday, Governor Greg Abbott held a news conference declaring a state disaster. He said it authorizes “the use of all available and necessary state and government resources to help respond to COVID-19.”

MORE: Texas Gov. Abbott declares state disaster, drive-thru testing in San Antonio due to COVID-19

During the news conference, Gov. Abbott said, “We’ve been working with grocers and retailers and Texans must remain calm and understand that hoarding is neither necessary nor productive.”

There are at least 47 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Texas as of March 13, with zero deaths from the disease at this stage.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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