The spread of COVID-19 has created a trend of ordered closures of bars and restaurants, increased sanitization efforts at businesses and panic buying of food and household essentials by worried citizens around the nation despite attempts of government entities to discourage stockpiling.

In addition to sanitizing items like wipes and bleach, one of the most coveted items is toilet paper. Stores across the Northland, like many in the U.S., have had shelves of these items wiped out in minutes. As a result of buying frenzies, retailers altered hours and limited the amount of items shoppers can purchase due to shortages.

Change in hours

As of Sunday, March 15, on corporate.walmart.com, Walmart said a majority of its stores and Neighborhood Markets will be open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. until further notice. Walmart has roughly 4,700 stores nationwide.

“Stores currently operating under more reduced hours — for example, they regularly close at 10 p.m. or open at 7 a.m. — will keep their current hours of operation,” said Dacona Smith, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Walmart U.S.

The move, a release from Walmart states, will help ensure associates can clean and stock products.

“As we make this change, associates will continue to work the hours and shifts they are scheduled and our supply chain and trucking fleet will continue to move products and deliver to stores on their regular schedules,” the statement reads.

Purchasing limits

In addition to Walmart altering hours, the retailer placed limits on the number of items a person can buy like cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Other major national chains like Target and regional chains like Price Chopper and Hy-Vee grocery stores are doing the same.

“To ensure as many guests as possible can find the items they need, we’ve placed limits on products like hand sanitizer, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, bottled water and more,” states a release from Target. “We’ll continue to make adjustments to limits as needed and would ask all guests to consider their immediate needs, understanding that many shoppers are hoping to stock up on the same items.”

“We are running out of toilet paper, Clorox wipes, baby wipes, eggs and bread. I think a lot of it is coronavirus, but also kids are on spring break,” said Kearney Price Chopper Store Director Kevin Norris. At the store on Friday, March 13, all checkout lines were full with people pushing overflowing carts of cleaning supplies and paper products while shelves once stocked with bleach, toilet paper, wipes and food items like potatoes were bare.

“We’ve got 30 stores and we’re all pulling out of the same warehouse,” he said of reasons for items becoming scarce.

Hy-Vee Public Relations Director Christina Gayman said stores are attempting to remedy a lack of certain items by looking beyond traditional supply chains.

“We are working closely with our suppliers to make sure we have enough supplies on hand to meet our shoppers’ needs. … Our employees also are increasing their stocking efforts as we keep up with customer demand,” she said.

Other services stopped

In addition to placing limits on items customers can purchase, as a precaution, Price Chopper temporarily halted free sampling, including trying of deli meats and cookie giveaways at the bakery. Rather than have her hand out samples in Kearney’s Price Chopper, employee Dee Nelson said she has taken to using that time to Lysol down carts at the store’s entrance.

“We are doing everything we can for folks,” she said.

At Hy-Vee, self-serve food service areas including the salad, olive, hummus and soup bars are temporarily closed.

“All Simple Fix classes or other classes are canceled until further notice. In our dining areas, we have moved to prewrapped silverware. We have also pulled condiment carts for the time being and are offering packaged condiments instead,” said Gayman.

Hy-Vee is also not allowing customers to use personal or reusable cups to refill fountain drinks, tea or coffee.

“If you have a cup that allows for a discount, we will certainly still apply the discount but we need our customers to use a new cup each time. Our corporate partner Starbucks has already implemented a very similar practice for its coffee refills inside our stores,” Gayman said.

Avoiding the store

While stores increased cleaning and sanitization protocols, retail leaders said they understand some are afraid to enter stores due to social distancing. Walmart and Target officials say they’ve seen an uptick in online shopping and services like delivery and curbside pick-up.

“We are working to fulfill online orders and have staffed up services like Order Pickup and Drive Up. However, due to high demand, we are facing delays,” states Target’s website.

While Hy-Vee offers delivery, the chain is temporarily altering delivery practices due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Delivery drivers also are taking extra precautions during this time and will not enter your home with your groceries so they can maintain a safe distance during the drop-off,” the grocery store chain’s site states.

In addition to local stores, online shopping giant Amazon is changing how it does business to help fight shortages for high-demand products. This week, the company said it would make orders for medical supplies and household staples shipping priorities.

“We are working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability of these essential products and continue to bring on additional capacity to deliver customer orders,” an Amazon release states.

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