Note: This story has been updated with additional information since it was originally published.
eed hand sanitizer, disposable gloves or face masks? Good luck finding them at area supermarkets right now, where nonperishable food and water are also being purchased at a frenzied pace, possibly because of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommendation to stockpile a two-week supply of those items “before a pandemic.”
As news of an uptick in U.S. coronavirus deaths broke Monday, Northampton County residents responded by continuing to snatchi up antibacterial wipes, disinfectant sprays, medical supplies, cleaning solutions and other products in what appears to be a well-intentioned but possibly overzealous effort to guard against the illness.
All of the six U.S. coronavirus deaths that have occurred to date have been in the Seattle area, and there has been only one confirmed coronavirus case within 100 miles of the Lehigh Valley to date (in New York City).
Federal health officials continue to stress that handwashing with antibacterial soap and other common sense measures represent the best defense against the coronavirus, which to date has claimed approximately 3,000 lives worldwide. The vast majority of the deaths have been in China, where human cases of the virus were first documented late last year.
A manager at the Giant Food Store in Lower Saucon Township Monday didn’t dispute the fact that the store’s hand sanitizer shelf was bare, but declined to comment for this story, instead referring questions about how or if the chain will address the fear-fueled buying trend to the company’s corporate office.
On Tuesday, The Giant Company public relations manager Ashley Flower issued the following statement:
The GIANT Company has a number of preparedness measures and are confident in our abilities to successfully manage through this situation at this time. This includes a team dedicated to monitoring the situation and (we) have developed robust business continuity plans to ensure we can continue to serve our customers during times of need, including a potential COVID-19 outbreak. We are also partnering closely with our Ahold Delhaize USA, Retail Business Services and global colleagues and we are also following the guidance of global, national and local health authorities, ensuring that we are planning and prepared for a potential outbreak.
While I can’t comment on specific product or category sales, I can say we have seen an increase in demand for certain products, such as cleaning products and hand sanitizer. Currently, we are not experiencing any significant product or supply issues at this time, but we continue to remain in close contact with all suppliers and will continue to closely monitor the situation as it develops.
The store manager for the Wegmans in Lower Nazareth Township was unavailable to comment Monday afternoon about the run on certain items and whether his company plans to institute measures to help ensure access to the products to all who need them.
Domenick Angelucci in a followup email referred the inquiry to Wegmans’ director of media relations, Deana Percassi, who wasn’t immediately available for comment.
At the Walmart store on Rt. 191 in Bethlehem Township, Northampton County, Monday, shelves which are normally stocked with Lysol and similar-type cleaning agents were more or less bare, and masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, water and other items being purchased by concerned consumers were in short supply, if they were available at all.
To date there have been no confirmed cases in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says masks don’t need to be worn by individuals who are well.
Over the weekend, the U.S. Surgeon General tweeted that American consumers need to “seriously stop” buying up the masks; a practice which Jerome M. Adams said could put healthcare providers at risk if supplies are depleted.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
In line with other common sense measures, the CDC is recommending that people with symptoms of respiratory illness stay home from work or school, which is the same recommendation made to help guard against the spread of influenza and other illnesses.
According a map of the virus’ spread produced by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), as of Monday afternoon there were 92 confirmed U.S. cases of coronavirus, which is also known as COVID-19. Worldwide, there have been slightly more than 90,000 confirmed cases to date.