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March 13, 2020

Philly grocery stores set buying limits as coronavirus restrictions prompt panic

Surging demand prompts long lines, empty shelves

Grocery Stores Coronavirus
Philly grocery stores restock Hal Donnelly/PhillyVoice

Grocery stores are imposing buying limits after new coronavirus restrictions caused a surge in demand on Thursday. In Philadelphia, Giant, Acme, Fresh Grocer and ShopRite scrambled to keep up with the so-called "panic-buying" as thousands of people grabbed much more than hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Above, an empty paper product aisle at a New Jersey grocery store.

Grocery stores in the Philadelphia region are imposing buying limits on select items as coronavirus-related restrictions cause a surge in demand.  

Newly-enacted measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 resulted in long lines at Philadelphia grocery stores on Thursday. But in some cases, there was little to purchase.

Stores like Acme, Giant, ShopRite and Fresh Grocer scrambled to keep up with the so-called "panic-buying" as thousands of people grabbed much more than hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Reports of empty soup and pasta shelves came as residents bought non-perishable items in bulk.

Some grocers, including Giant, are now warning customers of shortages.

"We are closely monitoring our inventory and working diligently with our suppliers to keep high-demand products in stock, such as hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, paper towels, toilet tissue, bleach and other cleaning products," the supermarket's update reads. "In some cases, these products are in limited supply across the U.S. As soon as the products become available, we are moving quickly to re-stock our store shelves."

Fresh Grocer, Wegmans, Acme and others are imposing buying limits. The affected items include bottled water, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, bleach, soap, toilet paper and fever medications.

  • SYMPTOMS: Coronavirus vs. Other respiratory illnesses
      • Fever, cough, shortness of breath
      • Itchy eyes, stuffy nose, sneezing
      • Fever, cough, body aches, fatigue, chills, headache and possibly sneezing, stuffy nose and a sore throat
      • Sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat and possibly coughing, slight aches, fatigue, fever
  • Anyone with coronavirus symptoms should stay home and call their doctor. More information can be found on the CDC's website. Philly residents can text "COVIDPHL" to 888777 for updates on the coronavirus, and anyone in Greater Philadelphia can call the coronavirus hotline at 800-722-7112.

"Due to high demand, quantities of select products will be 'limit 4' per category," Fresh Grocer announced. "Limits will be applied upon pickup or delivery of your order. Substitutions on select products may not be available."

Many workers in the Philadelphia region have been encouraged to work from home and practice social distancing. School closings in Montgomery County and Philadelphia added to that number while also increasing the number of children eating lunches at home. 

On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all Montgomery County schools to close for two weeks. That prompted Philadelphia to close 63 city schools due to staffing shortages. 

In Montgomery County, where there are 13 coronavirus cases, all community centers, gyms and entertainment venues have been temporarily closed.  

NBC10 reported that "tens of millions" of people worldwide are staying home Friday.

To prepare for extended home stays, thousands of residents headed to the grocery stores on Thursday. But when they got there, they found a very different environment from what they usually experience.

Many residents took to Twitter to share their experiences and communicate store shortages .