'The panic is here' in stores around area

Locals scramble for essential items amid outbreak of novel coronavirus

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Lori Gifford approached the milk refrigerator at the back of a King Soopers Marketplace in Parker and scanned the empty shelves that once held a variety of products, looking for organic milk to no avail.

The King Soopers at 117761 Cottonwood Drive was bustling with shoppers stocking up on food March 13. Entire aisles of products were decimated as workers carried cardboard boxes up and down walkways to replenish what they could.

A lifelong Coloradan from Parker and a health care professional, Gifford said she has never seen a reaction like this to a contagion. The number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Colorado and throughout the United States, prompting schools to close and events to be canceled.

“The panic is here, and that's what we have to deal with now,” Gifford said. “They exited Douglas County Schools now, so we have to plan for family being home and eating.”

Grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the Denver metro area were quickly running out of certain products, including toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleansing wipes. As the spread of the novel coronavirus forced school closures and event cancellations and prompted employers to encourage work-from-home options, people began scouring shelves for essential food items as well. Shelves with items such as flour, milk, dog food, bread and canned goods quickly emptied over the course of one day, March 13.

Bryant Nguyen, of Centennial, said the COVID-19 outbreak has affected his day-to-day life. Instead of going to his gym, he works out from home. He stocked up on frozen foods to eat later.

“It's definitely affecting all aspects of life,” Nguyen said. “It's been pretty comprehensive. Just trying to stay safe, wash hands. Purell and Lysol wipes are hard to come by, but we're trying to get our hands on that.”

One King Soopers customer service representative said the store ran out of toilet paper the morning of March 13 and did not anticipate restocking until the next truck arrived the following night.

A Target representative said the store had been out of toilet paper since about an hour after opening and recommended people get to the store early if they want to buy the item.

Walmart announced March 10 on its corporate website that it will work to stay stocked and keep prices fair. The store will be diverting certain products to areas most in need of replenished inventory.

The largest private employer in the United States, Walmart is also taking measures to protect its employees. Workers are asked to stay home if sick and the store will provide pay options and support if a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Major supermarket outlets, like Walmart, King Soopers and Target, have all authorized managers to decide on a consumer limit on certain products. Items like bottled water and toilet paper are available on an item-per-customer limit.

Bonnie Lee, a mother of seven from Elbert County, said she expects her older kids to come home if the spread of the virus continues because they may not be as prepared as their mother.

“I'm just going to get groceries while I can and I'm going to go home and wait it out,” Lee said. “And put my trust in Jesus.”

Kevin Donovan, of Englewood, said he wishes people would be more considerate of their neighbors when shopping during this stressful time.

“We live in an individualistic society, where everybody is out for themselves," said Donovan, who was shopping for produce March 13 at the King Soopers at 3495 S. University Blvd. "I would like to see more of a community approach. We shouldn’t hoard all of the toilet paper. We shouldn’t hoard all of the paper towels. Let’s just share with our community — that is what I want to see.”

Josh Shepard, assistant manager of the same Englewood King Soopers where Donovan was shopping, said the day was "absolutely nuts," listing numerous items the store was out of or that were almost gone, including meat, water, frozen foods and, of course, toilet paper. He also brought light to what many store workers are going through during the recent shopping frenzy.

"I live out in Aurora, so I have not been able to see my family a lot, because I am here," said Shepard, adding that he gets one day a week off. "But making money is what I have to do.” 

— Reporter Joseph Rios contributed to this report.

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