Concerns about the new coronavirus and increasing cases in the United States pushed some metro Atlanta shoppers to stock up on food, water and other supplies in recent days, including at a Costco in Buford in Gwinnett County. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

Shopping lists grow for some metro Atlantans with coronavirus concerns

Federal health officials urged Americans to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak, and some metro Atlantans have responded in a big way.

Even before Georgia’s first two coronavirus cases were confirmed Monday night, shoppers — some sheepish and some emphatic — packed at least some local stores in recent days for items to deal with a possible pandemic. Hot sellers included cases of water, hand sanitizer, disinfecting alcohol and cleaning wipes, facial tissues and paper towels, leaving some store shelves temporarily depleted, though more supplies are on the way, said workers at two local Costcos and a local Walmart. 

Shoppers at other Cosctos noticed signs limiting the number the amount of water or paper products they would be allowed to buy.

» THE LATEST: Complete coverage of coronavirus in Georgia

Still, many area residents hadn’t changed their habits. Tia Savay of Lawrenceville was shopping Costco on Monday, but she said she wasn’t picking up anything extra because she already had enough cleaning supplies and water with what she regularly gets.

“I know it’s a scary deal, but I think people are taking it out of proportion,” she said.

Others say the steps they are taking are just common sense. At a Walmart on Monday, Lawrenceville grandmother Rebecca Rice was finishing her second run to stock up in case of a pandemic. Rice said she bought enough food to last her family for a month or longer, with everything from canned food to rice.

“It’s always worse than they tell you,” she said.

There were news reports of big rushes at stores in other parts of the nation, including California, New York, Oregon and Minnesota. Walmart, Costco, Publix and Kroger spokespeople did not respond to Atlanta Journal-Constitution requests for comment by deadline Monday.

Some consumers’ shopping lists at a Gwinnett County Walmart included an item the store had run out of: face masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically doesn’t recommend for healthy members of the general public. In fact, the U.S. surgeon general is calling for consumers to stop those purchases, saying the masks won’t help them and health workers need the equipment.

Sheila Eads, the chief executive of ERB Industries, a Woodstock-based industrial safety products supplier and maker, said her masks supplies were spoken for weeks ago when coronavirus became a significant concern in China. More masks are being made by her suppliers, but those are quickly allocated.

“For the next three weeks I find it difficult to say there will be availability for the average folks looking for one,” she said.

A federal government web site,, recommends that individuals prepare for a pandemic by storing a two-week supply of water and food. It also suggests making sure to have enough regular prescription drugs at home as well as nonprescription drugs and supplies, such as “pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes and vitamins.”

It also suggests having copies of health records handy and to “talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.”

Workers at a Gwinnett County Walmart said Monday they were temporarily out of hand sanitizer, masks and alcohol for cleaning as shoppers prepared for the new coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

At a Costco in Duluth, shoppers had depleted the least-expensive cases of water bottles and some other products, a worker said Monday. Last weekend was expected to be a particularly busy one because of soon-to-expire coupons, but more than twice as many shoppers than expected showed up early on, the staff member added.

At a Costco in Buford, a worker told a shopper last weekend’s crowds rivaled or exceeded those around Christmas.

Nikita Wilcox, who was there Sunday, said she picked up more food than normal and grabbed the last two boxes of diapers. The family bought masks from a nearly bare shelf at Home Depot days earlier.

“I feel like people are pretending not freak out, but secretly they are freaking out,” she said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.