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Worried Shoppers Flood Grocery Stores Over Coronavirus Concerns

The checkout lines at Costco 20 minutes after opening.
Sangita Menon
The checkout lines at Costco, 20 minutes after opening on Thursday.

People concerned about fallout from the coronavirus have been wiping out grocery store shelves across Austin and the U.S. as other countries restrict movement to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

About 100 shoppers waited outside the Costco in South Austin on Thursday before the store was even open. When an employee rolled up the entrance door 10 minutes early, they made a polite but hasty rush to the back of the store to fill their carts with toilet paper and paper towels. Only one brand of each was available.

“I came over here yesterday and got all that, so just coming back for extra things,” Joanne Koster said. “Coffee, Clorox and cereal.”

Sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer were sold out, but other pantry staples were readily available, including baby formula, rice and Spam.  

A sign that says limits are temporarily in place to protect product availability.
Credit Michael Minasi / KUT
A sign notifies H-E-B customers that they will be able to buy a limited number of certain items.

  “It's been a little crazy this past week in terms of outside shopping frequency and sales levels, and not only in the United States,” Costco CFO Richard Galanti said in a conference call with investors last week. “In terms of placing quantity limits on what a member can purchase, we are doing that in some instances.”

Other grocers are reporting similar trends. In a public statement, H-E-B said it was implementing limits on how much consumers could buy of some items to “help protect the supply chain in Texas.”

The market research company Neilsen says spikes in retail spending have coincided with major COVID-19 news events like government news conferences and public health announcements.

For example, Neilsen says sales of medical supplies soared by more than 85% in the week ending Feb. 29 compared to the same week last year after reports of suspected local transmission and President Trump's news conference.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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