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Consumers may face empty store shelves when trying to buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies recommended by health officials, but retail industry experts said the situation should be temporary.
“Major retailers have sophisticated emergency and disaster mitigation plans in place. They can redirect products to stores where they are needed,” said Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine in Augusta.
After Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday announced the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, consumers began a run on cleaning, toilet paper and other supplies at stores throughout Maine. Consumers are rushing from supermarkets to pharmacies and discount stores only to find empty shelves and limits on how much they could purchase.
Picard said consumers may see an empty shelf one day that will be restocked the next day. He expects the shortages to be temporary and be resolved over the next few days to a week.
“Like anything else, it’s the uncertainty of it, whether you’re a business or a consumer,” he said. “People need to see someone who has gotten better from the disease. Health officials say 80 percent of people will get better, but we haven’t seen that yet.” That percentage is from the Chinese CDC.
Picard said retail associations in Maine, including the Retail Association of Maine, the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association and the Maine Pharmacy Association, have been communicating among themselves and with members to ensure that consumers get the supplies they need. Those associations also are communicating with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Emergency Management Agency to keep up to date on any emergency situations, he said.
On Thursday, Mills proclaimed an insurance emerg ency that allows the Superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Insurance to require health insurers in Maine’s commercial market to cover costs related to coronavirus testing. It also increases access to care.
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Picard said the emergency helps pharmacies and consumers ensure they have needed medications. It allows one-time refills before the scheduled date.
For their part, retailers including Walmart, Hannaford and Walgreens, are sending emails and other notifications to tell consumers some supplies may be temporarily limited.
“While we may experience temporary shortages of certain items in some locations, we’re continuing to work closely with our supplier partners to meet customers’ needs,” Walgreens President Richard Ashworth wrote in an email to customers on Thursday. “Due to extremely high demand, we are taking additional steps to best manage our inventory so that the essentials you’re looking for can be more widely available.”
The pharmacy allows prescriptions to be picked up via a drive-through window for those not wanting to go into a store. It also has next-day mail delivery. Starting today it is waiving delivery fees for eligible prescriptions.
Hannaford President Mike Vail said the grocery chain is working with its current suppliers and searching for new ones to get cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers and other high-demand products in stock quickly.
“Stores have implemented a purchase limit on certain items to ensure that products remain available,” he said.
While some stores do post inventories online, Picard said that near term, people searching for toilet paper and other items should look to social media.
“They might have more luck in discovering where to find things by posting on social media and seeing what their friends know,” he said.
Watch: What you need to know about handwashing during coronavirus