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Costco sells out of toilet paper as concerned shoppers rush Santa Rosa store

Giovana Garcia took one look at the long line of shoppers edging their way into the Santa Rosa Costco on Friday afternoon and decided to go somewhere else to buy her groceries.

The warehouse was packed with dozens of people hustling to pick up supplies just moments before President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

Many were hoping to stock up on toilet paper, bottled water and hand sanitizer - only to find out Costco was sold out of those items.

Others, like Garcia, were just trying to do their weekly grocery shopping, and were a little baffled by the size of the crowd, many of the people clearly panic buying.

“I don’t really know why people are stocking up like it’s the end of the world,” Garcia, 27, said. “I think people are freaking out.”

Shoppers who were stockpiling said they’re worried they would be stuck in their homes for weeks on end or that businesses would shut down, if county officials ordered a lockdown of stores and businesses similar to the one in Italy, which now has the second-highest number of cases of coronavirus worldwide behind China. Fearing the worst, they wanted to get extra supplies.

But many were disappointed, with shelves that used to contain toilet paper and bottled water empty when they arrived. With the shopping rush over the last week, Costco employees even limited members to one package of toilet paper per visit.

It was a rationing move that Rabbi Mordecai Miller, who visited the store Friday, called “really smart” because it’s “helpful if people aren’t going to be self-disciplined” in their shopping.

Regarding the run on toilet paper here and nationwide, paper manufacturers have increased production but only so much because they don’t want to cause an oversupply when customer demand subsides. Also, toilet paper isn’t considered a product used more by people with symptoms of COVID-19.

“You are not using more of it. You are just filling up your closet with it,” Jeff Anderson, president of Precision Paper Converters, a paper product maker in Wisconsin, told the New York Times.

Windsor resident Rosa Solgat said she wasn’t too concerned about the coronavirus affecting her, but rather if local stores start to close. She went to Costco on Friday to make sure she had what she needed for her 7-month-old baby, including formula and diapers. She started to think about stocking up when she saw news reports of people across the country who were panic-buying supplies.

“I’m reacting to the way other people are reacting,” Solgat, 37, said. “It’s like, should I be doing what they’re doing?”

Santa Rosa resident Brian Karaut also decided to buy frozen foods, canned goods and diapers over concerns area stores might start to close - especially after many regions, including Sonoma County, have banned large gatherings. He, like many others, was out of luck when it came to toilet paper and paper towels at Costco.

“We’re not the type to panic about anything, but you got to get your shopping in when you can,” he said. “(If) they shut things down, might as well be prepared for a while.”

Garcia, a nurse at a Petaluma hospital, said of course people should be cautious and wash their hands - something they should do irregardless of a global pandemic. And while fear was “understandable,” she said people should stay up to date on the facts about coronavirus “instead of fighting over toilet paper.”

At a time when health officials have advised people against visiting crowded places, some shoppers donned masks in the packed aisles of the Costco warehouse. Store employees were taking extra precautions, too, - as each customer walked through the entrance, an employee would offer them antibacterial wipes to disinfect the handles of their shopping carts.

Eva Krechko, 72, wore a mask and gloves when she visited the warehouse Friday. She said she wears them to crowded places, to protect herself and others. Unlike some shoppers, she was worried about the spread of the virus, adding it’s likely there are many more people who have been infected, since so few people have actually been tested for it.

Santa Rosa resident Joyce Sloan also was concerned about how coronavirus could affect her. Sloan is 69 and has Type 1 diabetes, which puts her at a higher risk of suffering from serious illness if she becomes infected. She wanted to get sanitizing wipes and water to be prepared for a possible self-isolation, but found the store was sold out of those items. She had been to CVS earlier to see if they had any antibacterial wipes, but they also were out - and didn’t know when they’d be able to restock.

Even though Sloan was worried about her health and possible consumer product shortages, she was glad to see people were still being considerate to one another in the time of a crisis.

“Everybody that’s shopping here has been ... very kind,” she said. “People seem to be in this together, and I appreciate their attitude.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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