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Coronavirus fears in Los Angeles have people stockpiling dry goods and cleaning products

Empty shelves at a Home Depot
At an Alhambra Home Depot, Valved respirator face masks are sold out amid coronavirus fears.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

After the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in China, Los Angeles resident Lily Capatori followed every news update about the disease and the efforts to contain it.

When it spread to other countries such as Japan, Italy and eventually, the United States, she concluded that an outbreak in Los Angeles was inevitable.

“We’re going to have a lot of closures and casualties like in other countries,” she said. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,’ and I just want to be ready because when people panic and hit the shops, I’ll be ready to go.”

Three weeks ago, Capatori said she began stockpiling household necessities. She purchased the last jug of hand sanitizer at a local drug store. She ordered cleaning wipes, masks, two suits — for her and her 11-year-old daughter — goggles and gloves. She has stocked up on food that will last her up to 3 months.

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“We’re competing against time,” she said.

For weeks now, stores across Southern California and nationwide have been experiencing a surge in demand for health gear, shelf-stable food and other supplies as people try to protect themselves from the virus and stock up in case of quarantine or scarcity. Some stores said the number of customers is similar to crowds seen during the Christmas holiday.

On Saturday, as Capatori was getting new tires installed on her vehicle at a Costco in Marina Del Rey, she decided to grab more items and noticed more customers than usual. She saw many of them trying to stock up on food, water and cleaning products.

Capatori felt a sense of validation. People she knew didn’t understand why she was even considering an emergency stockpile.

“They thought I was crazy, but now I think it’s on everyone’s radar,” she said.

At the store, she saw a woman with two carts filled with essentials like fruit jars, canned food, pasta, granola bars.

“She had everything,” Capatori said.

Walking around, she noticed that cases of water bottles were nearly out, and the toilet paper that is usually stacked high was gone. For a moment she stopped to speak to Joel, a Costco employee.

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“What’s selling the most?” she asked him.

“Anything that has to do with cleaning,” he told her.

“What are you out of?”

“Toilet paper, water, towels,”

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Thad Kleszcz, general manager of Costco in Atwater Village, said for weeks he’s noticed an unusually high number of customers at the store, but it seemed to have increased Friday and Saturday, after it was announced that a Washington state man had become the first person in the U.S. to die from the coronavirus.

“Antiseptic wipes and Clorox disinfecting wipes are flying out of here,” he said. “We can’t keep those in stock.”

He said people are mostly purchasing water, paper goods, grains such as rice and pasta, jarred food and peanut butter. He said Costco is doing everything it can to keep up with demand.


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