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‘Never seen anything like it’: Maryland shoppers stock up as the coronavirus spreads

Alexa Faraday of Ruxton, a primary care doctor shopping at Graul's in Ruxton, offered some common-sense precautions for people to follow to reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus. Disinfectants were sold out at Graul's in Ruxton and other area stores, as people stock up on items as precautions against the virus. March 6, 2020
Alexa Faraday of Ruxton, a primary care doctor shopping at Graul's in Ruxton, offered some common-sense precautions for people to follow to reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus. Disinfectants were sold out at Graul's in Ruxton and other area stores, as people stock up on items as precautions against the virus. March 6, 2020 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Denise Cox knew she wanted to be prepared “just in case.”

The Highlandtown resident did all her COVID-19-related shopping a week ago at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Canton.

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Saturday at Harris Teeter in Canton Crossing all she had to worry about was shopping for dinner.

“I’m always prepared,“ she said as she retrieved a small bottle of hand sanitizer from her purse. She then rattled off her list of last week’s purchases: four cases of bottled water, Clorox wipes, Lysol spray and bleach. “When I bought the bleach, corona was in my thoughts.”

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More than 100,000 people have been sickened and at least 3,400 people have died worldwide because of the novel coronavirus. In Maryland, at least five people have tested positive, and one Washington, D.C., visitor from Nigeria is being treated at a Maryland hospital. Officials have also stated that patients who tested positive had visited the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Prince George’s County and a senior center in Rockville.

There is no vaccine for the coronavirus, and one isn’t expected to be available until 2021, according to health experts. Symptoms include fever, cough and trouble breathing. About 80% of cases are mild, with 20% more severe and requiring hospitalization usually to help people breathe.

Since December, when the outbreak of the disease began in China, it has spread to other countries, including the United States, which has resulted in area retailers reporting a surge in sales of hand sanitizer, cleaning agents and other items.

Graul’s Market in Ruxton has had trouble keeping hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes with bleach and canned milk in stock.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said assistant store manager Jeff Major, who has worked for the company for 18 years.

Wednesday, the store brought in two cases of Purell hand sanitizer. They sold out that day.

“I think rubbing alcohol will be the next thing to go,” said general manager Tom Gilbert as he motioned toward a shelf missing the first two rows of merchandise.

Fingers crossed we’ll have hand sanitizer by March 15.


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“Fingers crossed we’ll have hand sanitizer by March 15,” he added.

Sandie Pearce spent the better part of Sunday searching for disinfectants — preferably her trusty Lysol and Clorox.

Her journey took her from Big Lots in Lutherville to a CVS in Harbor East. In all, she went to nine stores before calling it quits.

“I wasn’t going any further,” she said with a laugh. “All that for a damn can of Lysol.”

Pearce said she hit the “jackpot” at a Walgreens on York Road in Timonium. That’s where she found a 12-ounce can of Lysol spray.

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“It was $8!” she exclaimed.

The private school teacher and Realtor said she usually shops on Amazon. But, she said, supply shortages and price gouging forced her embark upon her weekend quest.

Products such as Clorox disinfecting wipes were sold out at Graul's in Ruxton and other area stores, as people stock up on sanitizing items as precautions against the coronavirus. March 6, 2020
Products such as Clorox disinfecting wipes were sold out at Graul's in Ruxton and other area stores, as people stock up on sanitizing items as precautions against the coronavirus. March 6, 2020 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

“The last time I saw this was the last big snowstorm,” she said. “Before it was bread. Now it’s germ virus killers.”

Rod Hall, store manager at Dollar General in Pigtown, knew something was awry last week when a customer purchased $175 worth of cleaning supplies.

“It was Clorox. It was Lysol. It was store brand. He didn’t care,” Hall recalled as he stood next to the emptied shelves. “I’m pretty sure it was for a business.”

The store also sold out of hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol and surgical masks.

“[Hand sanitizer] was the first thing to go. Then they bought the alcohol. And spray bottles,” he said. “We might not get anything until the Tuesday after next.”

Hand sanitizer sales in the U.S. more than doubled in the four weeks ending Feb. 29 compared with the same period a year ago, according to market research firm Nielsen; sales of thermometers spiked 52.3% during that same period. Sales of dried beans spiked nearly 18% , according to the Associated Press.

Sally C. Chester of Stevenson, a district court judge, says there is too much hysteria about the coronavirus in the United States. She was shopping for groceries, but not items like the disinfecting products that are flying off grocery store shelves. At Graul's in Ruxton, where Chester was shopping, products like sanitizer and bleach wipes were out of stock. March 6, 2020
Sally C. Chester of Stevenson, a district court judge, says there is too much hysteria about the coronavirus in the United States. She was shopping for groceries, but not items like the disinfecting products that are flying off grocery store shelves. At Graul's in Ruxton, where Chester was shopping, products like sanitizer and bleach wipes were out of stock. March 6, 2020 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

The disease is weighing on the minds of customers at Graul’s Market. Major recalled that an elderly customer inquired earlier in the week about the health of the store’s Instacart shoppers.

“She asked if they were in perfect health,” he said in regards to the employees of the same-day grocery delivery and pickup service.

Instacart reported a surge in demand for pantry items such as powdered milk and canned goods, as well as personal care products like hand sanitizer and vitamins, according to the Associated Press.

At Walmart in Halethorpe, sales associates said the store had been sold out of hand sanitizer and surgical masks “for weeks.”

A look at the empty shelves in the store in the cleaning aisle and near the pharmacy confirmed that.

Target and Walmart say they are talking to suppliers to replenish bare shelves, but didn’t say how long that could take, according to the Associated Press.

Back at Graul’s Market in Ruxton, Dr. Alexa Faraday was shopping for fruits and vegetables. She explained that she started stocking up on her “common sense items” (disinfectants, nonperishable foods) when she first started hearing news about the coronavirus out of the CDC.

“I was disheartened,” she said in reference to much of the misinformation and lack of precaution that she has observed. “I just spoke to someone today in the vegetable aisle who said this is overblown. I think we owe it to ourselves and our community to be cautious. We’re all in this together.”

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