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Toilet paper? Bottled water? Are we hoarding the wrong things for the coronavirus?

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 3/4/2020 By Mike Rogoway, oregonlive.com

Oregon shoppers flooded Costco, WinCo and Fred Meyer over the weekend, driven into a buying frenzy by word that the coronavirus had spread to the Portland area.

At least one Costco, in Vancouver, confirmed Tuesday it has put limits on the amount of rice, sugar, water, disinfectant and toilet paper each customer can purchase.

Some of the things people are buying make sense, especially nonperishable food and hand sanitizer. Other purchases are more puzzling, among them toilet paper and bottled water – items that are always good to have on hand but with no particular utility in an outbreak of a respiratory virus.

“Honestly – they’re just stocking up, preparing for the end of the world,” said David Dunstan, manager of the Tigard WinCo foods.

Things that might make sense to stock up on before a snowstorm – kale, for example, may not be the right foods to buy during a viral outbreak. Still, emergency response personnel say they’re pleased shoppers are thinking ahead – even if not all their purchasing decisions made sense for this particular crisis.

“Portland is crazy,” said Paula Fasano Negele, spokeswoman for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. “It seems that whatever happens, people run for water.”

Bottled water is probably unnecessary for the coronavirus outbreak, Negele said. There’s no reason to think the disease will damage the taps. But she said it’s always prudent to have water on hand in case of a natural disaster, like an earthquake or flood.

And other supplies could be essential for people who are exposed to the coronavirus, or contract COVID-19, and have to stay home for at least two weeks to avoid exposing others. She recommends canned foods, rice, beans and other staples.

“If you can’t get out and get food, and you don’t have somebody you can count on (to bring you things), you’d better have two weeks’ of supply,” Negele said.

Lines at the Tigard Costco were 100 people deep Saturday morning as shoppers rushed to stock up on bulk goods. The warehouse store quickly sold out of toilet paper.

Sales at the Tigard WinCo were 80% higher on Saturday and Sunday compared to a regular weekend, according to Dunstan.

“When the news broke Friday night, that’s when the rush started,” he said. Dunstan said the store received 11,000 cases of products late Saturday and staff worked through the night to have the store nearly fully stocked by Sunday morning.

“We called all hands on deck and we made it happen,” he said.

-- Mike Rogoway 5/8 mrogoway@oregonian.com 5/8 twitter: @rogoway 5/8 503-294-7699

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