Amid COVID-19 pandemic, empty store shelves are showing people’s concerns

By Wanying Zhao
Medill Reports

Michelle Kwong stocked up more than usual during her regular grocery shopping trip for her family of four at the Freshmart in Chicago’s Chinatown.

She pushed two carts to the checkout counter — one full of snacks, vegetables, meat, and some frozen foods, and another one stuffed with three bags of rice and a case of Wang Lao Ji, a Chinese herbal tea drink.

“I’m not hoarding, but I did buy more than usual just because I’m afraid that they are going to run out if the virus comes down,” said Kwong in Mandarin.

Starting with the outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December, the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread swiftly to more than 100 countries and infected tens of thousands.

As of Wednesday afternoon in the U.S., health officials have reported 1,135 cases in at least 38 states, including 19 in Illinois. The nation has  24 confirmed deaths. With approximately 122, 400 cases  worldwide, the World Health Organization called the outbreak a pandemic Wednesday morning.

To prevent the continuing spread of COVID-19, governments in some severely infected areas such as Wuhan imposed a lockdown  and restricted people from going to public spaces. Meanwhile, to reduce the risk of catching the virus, people chose to stock up during grocery shopping and reduce the number of trips to supermarkets as few as possible.

“I noticed that people are buying more rice and noodles,” said Joe Wang, the manager at Freshmart. Some sections of instant noodles were already emptied out and the staff was busy restocking last week.

While some people are storing foods, others are clearing out sanitary product racks. In the two-story Target at 1 S. State St. in downtown Chicago, hand sanitizers and disinfection products are in high demand and shelves were emptying quickly.

Hand sanitizers and disinfectant products are sold out quickly in store. (Wanying Zhao/MEDILL)

Barbara Taylor, a program coordinator at Leadership Greater Chicago, ran to stores buying tissues and cleansing wipes for an event in high school, and she ended up going to two CVS stores to get what she needed.

Taylor purchased three bags of sanitary products at CVS.

“I think I would buy [to keep] some on hand. At least for the next couple of months, I’ll be buying a lot more,” she said.

Since last week, the CVS store at 205 N. Columbus Dr. has started limiting hand sanitizer to one bottle per person and the product is available at the checkout counter only due to high demand.

Amid the global outbreak, countries have been advising people to take precautions. While people in Asia are using face masks as the main protection, the CDC has advised this isn’t necessary for healthy people but recommends that cleaning frequently touched surfaces and washing hands more often with hand soaps or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

“At first, I was skeptical. But CDC is saying that healthcare workers and people with a disease should wear face masks to prevent spreading it, so it made sense to me,” said Taylor.

Photo at top: Hand soap and sanitizer is in great demand and some stores are seeing a shortage. (Wanying Zhao/MEDILL)