YUCCA VALLEY — Across the nation and in the Morongo Basin, people have been rushing to stores and panic-buying as fears of the coronavirus grow.
David Walsh, of Landers, said he was not taking any health risks as he shopped at one of the Stater Bros. stores in Yucca Valley on Monday afternoon. Walsh, a construction worker and self proclaimed “desert rat,” wore a full gas mask and leather working gloves as he shopped.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Walsh cautioned. “Watch out — it’s going to be a monster.”
Walsh said he was not “panic buying” — his pantry is fully stocked.
“I’m just buying regular stuff,” Walsh said. “I was at Wal-Mart and it was empty.”
The Trump administration and grocery industry leaders are telling the American public that the U.S. food supply chain is holding up despite heavy strain amid worries over the coronavirus outbreak, which has cleared out shelves of nonperishable foods, household cleaners and essentials.
During a news conference Sunday evening, Trump said grocery firms had urged him to communicate the message to consumers to avoid panic-buying.
“You don’t have to buy so much,” Trump said. “There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential food supplies.”
The top U.S. infectious diseases expert said people need to hunker down. They have been warning the public for days that braving crowds for any reason is a gamble and if a trip isn’t essential, you should stay home.
Some people can’t afford to buy the recommended two to three weeks of supplies at once, and they keep returning to stores and running the risk of possible infection.
Major grocery chains such as Wal-Mart, Stater Bros., Vons and others are decreasing hours of operations to allow extra time for their workers to clean, sanitize and restock stores.
The new hours vary from chain to chain: Stater Bros. is reducing to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Wal-Mart is reducing hours nationwide to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Stater Bros. announced Tuesday that all of its stores will open at 7:45 a.m. for customers who are 65 and older, allowing them to shop in a less crowded environment.
Some chains are limiting the number of certain items each customer can buy with each visit.
“To ensure product availability for all of its customers, there are limits on high-demand items,” stated Stater Bros. CEO Pete Van Helden. “The company is working around the clock to get product to our stores as quickly as it becomes available. Be assured that all of our merchandise is being sold at its everyday price.”
About a dozen people waited outside of the Grocery Outlet prior to the 8 a.m. opening Monday in hopes of finding items they wanted to buy. Staffers at the store said this was a first since they opened for business last summer. The shelves at Grocery Outlet, including bread items, were stocked pretty well, with a few areas short on Monday afternoon.
In Vons on Monday afternoon, people standing in normal-sized lines for an afternoon commented about the ongoing crisis, with some younger people calling it “fake news,” and others saying the entire frenzy has been blown way out of proportion. Some shoppers wore latex gloves and masks as they meandered through the market.
Shoppers at Vons had their baskets full of everyday items with few appearing to be in any type of panic and going about their business as normal.
The bread aisle at Vons was nearly empty along with much of the produce section’s potato products, but few in the store seemed to fret much about it.
Meanwhile, Brother Dave, a local musician, played his guitar outside of Stater Bros.
Brother Dave, 72, who declined to use his full name, said he is not worried about the coronavirus. He said he loves to hear the laughter of children, his favorite audience, and he has his Christian faith.
“I’m not worried at all. I am a Christian man and the Lord will not let me live any longer than planned,” he said. “When our time is up, our time is up. I am not worried about the coronavirus. I will not let it interfere with my life.”
Brother Dave said he is taking health precautions and frequently washing his hands, but music is his life and has been since he picked up the guitar at 12 years old.
He reasoned that the seasonal flu virus kills thousands, but you don’t see people rushing around in a panic about that.
“I want people to stop being hysterical,” he said.
Nationally, in an effort to significantly stop the spread of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Monday issued guidelines that called for Americans to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and to limit discretionary travel. Trump said the country may be dealing with a number of restrictions through July or August as a result of the virus.
Stater Bros. Markets is taking additional preventive measures. The company has increased its daily cleaning routine by spending more time disinfecting frequently touched surfaces including check stands, drinking fountains, door handles, shopping carts, payment keypads and restrooms. This guidance is based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations.
“For nearly 84 years, we’ve worked hard ensure the needs of our local communities are met, and as long as the shopping experience remains safe, our stores will remain open. We’re in this together to keep our community safe,” Van Helden said in a press release.