Damaris Walker rolled a shopping cart filled with bulk packages of canned beans, paper towels and other items up to her SUV — its trunk already filled with candles and little clay pots.
“You can use terra cotta pots and the candles for a heater,” explained Walker, 48, a South Sider.
Walker has seen the news coming out of China — the TV images showing all-but-deserted streets, particularly in Wuhan, the origin of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m actually not worried about the virus, as much as I am people who are unprepared, and how they’re going to react when they realize they are unprepared,” said Walker, shopping Monday morning at Costco Wholesale on South Ashland Avenue.
Last week, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, recommended Americans prepare for the spread of the virus here. While health officials nationally and locally say the chance of contracting coronavirus here remains low, they have warned of the potential for significant disruptions to daily life.
Walker and others were heeding that advice Monday.
“We’re being cautious. ... You don’t want to come next week and you can’t get anything to buy,” said Claudette Grant, a 40-something city resident who said she’d been unable to find rice or toilet paper, but stocked up on an extra case of bottled water.
Several shoppers hunting for toilet paper said they were told there would be more in the store Tuesday. Costco representatives could not be reached for comment.
Korey James, 35, a South Sider, said she understands the concern over the virus that as of Monday had sickened about 90,000 people worldwide, but she was taking a wait-and-see attitude over stocking up on supplies.
“I’m just not there yet,” James said. “Maybe I’m ignorant to what should be happening, but I don’t feel the need to buy tons of water and two weeks’ worth of food.”
Instead, James was shopping for some “sides” for a work party.
As for Walker, she said she’d been preparing for at least a month. She didn’t have to worry about the apparent lack of toilet paper at the store because she bought some on a previous trip.
But what does she plan to do with all of her extra provisions, if they aren’t needed?
“Most of this stuff is stuff we would normally eat, except the beans,” she said, gesturing toward 32 cans of black and garbanzo varieties.
Meanwhile, workers at several area pharmacies said they haven’t noticed customers trying to buy large quantities of medications.
“People are wanting to stock up on a few things and asking what are the best things to take if they notice they are not feeling well — if they have respiratory issues, etc. — or how to avoid getting sick in the first place,” said Anthony Qaiyum, who owns Merz Apothecary, which has branches on the North Side and downtown.
But Qaiyum said that could also be because it has been a particularly rough flu season.