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I'm not panicking, you're panicking: Shelves empty in face of coronavirus

As May Shogan filled her shopping cart with paper towels, disinfecting wipes, tissues and three gallons of water at Dollar General Thursday, she insisted she wasn't panicking.

Shogan was simply trying to "stay germ free," she said.

"I'm just doing what we should normally be doing during flu season, but a little extra," the Town of Tonawanda resident said.

If she were panicking about the COVID-19 virus, she said, she would have bought a much larger supply to last several weeks. Not that there was much supply left, she said.

"It's like Tickle-Me-Elmo at Christmas," Shogan said. "Everything is selling out."

If consumers aren't keeping calm about the coronavirus, at least they're keeping clean.

Sanitizing supplies such as bleach, cleaning wipes, rubbing alcohol and antibacterial soap are selling fast.

Hand sanitizer, though, is hot.

Dollar General sold out of hand sanitizer days ago – as did various locations of Dollar Tree, Rite Aid, CVS, Target, Walmart, 7-Eleven and Home Depot. At the Colvin Boulevard Dollar General location in the Town of Tonawanda Friday, there was a sign on the door informing customers that there was none to be had. Workers had one bottle of sanitizer behind the counter for employees to share.

"They've been buying it all up. Even the travel-sized ones," a worker there said.

Amazon was sold out of hand sanitizers Friday. The ones it offered for sale, through third-party sellers, had delayed shipping windows, with products arriving as late as April 20. Prices also were higher.

That's despite guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control that say thorough handwashing is a more effective way to prevent the spread of the virus.

Gorana Draca of Riverside said she went to five stores looking for hand sanitizer earlier this week. Walmart's shipment had sold out in just a few hours, employees told her, but Draca had an idea: She looked near the crib sheets and nursery items at the Amherst Target and found five bottles of Honest hand sanitizer spray, made by baby brand The Honest Co. She bought four of them.

"Nobody would ever think to look there," she said.

If she had struck out at Target, she said, she would have tried Bath & Body works next. That store is known for having bin after bin of scented hand sanitizers.

"And they have all the leftover stuff from last season," Draca said. "I don't care if it smells like pumpkin."

Indeed, Bath & Body Works was one of the few stores in Western New York to have hand sanitizer in stock Friday morning, but employees didn't expect that to last for long. The Boulevard Mall location opened its store with fewer than 150 bottles while the Walden Galleria store had fewer than 100 to start the day. Both locations usually carry thousands.

"We are on a limited supply of hand sanitizer," said an employee at the Boulevard Mall store. "If you want them, I suggest you come in immediately."

Rite Aid on Colvin Boulevard in Kenmore has been out of hand sanitizer since the weekend, but was expecting a shipment Friday morning. A worker there said more people are buying sanitizer than usual, and those people are buying multiples at a time.

"They're gone as soon as we get them," she said.

Stores, including Rite Aid, have sold out of face masks as well, even though the Centers for Disease Control has said most masks are not effective in preventing healthy wearers from the virus. Surgical masks can help be helpful if worn by patients diagnosed with COVID-19, but are not effective for the population at large, the CDC said.

Home Depot's Elmwood Avenue location has sold out of dust masks and its future shipments have been delayed, it said. The company has limited customers to 10 face masks per person "to best serve as many customers as possible," according to Christina Cornell, a Home Depot spokesperson.

Tops mounted disinfectant wipe and hand sanitizer stations throughout its stores and has made sure its cart wipes stay well-stocked, according to Tops spokesperson Kathy Sautter. The company has put up more hand-washing reminders in restrooms and is working closely with its suppliers to keep stores stocked with most products, though hand sanitizer is running low or has sold out, it said.

"Tops is closely monitoring the situation and is in contact with state and local authorities daily," Sautter said.

Wegmans has a safety team it formed 25 years ago that meets with experts to review contingency plans for different scenarios – including potential infectious disease outbreaks, said Wegmans spokesperson Deana Percassi.

"If any of the areas in which we operate are impacted, know that we are prepared to respond accordingly," she said in an email. "As an ever-evolving topic, we will continue to closely monitor the situation and adjust as necessary."

At both Wegmans and Tops, rewards club members who would prefer not to use the consumer keypad to enter their phone number at the register can ask the cashier to enter it for them, or use their Wegmans or Tops smartphone apps.

While the CDC says handwashing is the most effective way to cleanse hands, it says hand sanitizer can be a good backup if soap and water are not available. The sanitizer should be alcohol-based and contain at least 60% alcohol. Users should coat both hands entirely and rub them together until they are dry. Hand sanitizer is less effective if hands are already soiled or greasy.

Coronavirus Q&A: As fears hit WNY, how worried should you be?

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