COVID-19: Panic-buying Americans flock to supermarkets, empty toilet paper aisles as states announce new coronavirus restrictions

Empty shelves at a supermarket in Pennsylvania.
Empty shelves at a supermarket in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Reuters

Toilet paper aisles are emptying again as COVID-19 curfews and shutdowns in states from California to New York send pandemic-weary shoppers on a new scramble for essentials.

Walmart on Friday (local time) said it was "seeing pockets of lower than normal availability" for toilet paper and cleaning supplies in some communities as infections rage virtually unchecked across most of the US.

As of Friday afternoon, 22 states have imposed restrictions aimed at decreasing the spread of the virus - giving rise to a new round of panic buying from shoppers and purchase limits from retailers including Target and Kroger, the nation's largest supermarket chain.

Shoppers in a half dozen cities around the US told Reuters that disinfecting wipes were sold out at discount retailers like Walmart and Costco, as well as at Cerberus Capital-owned grocery chains Albertsons and Vons.

"Walmarts are still mostly out of Lysol wipes, and toilet paper is out again," said Whitley Hatcher, 31, a collections specialist in Tucson, Arizona.

"Oddly though, at places like Walgreens and Dollar Tree you can find what you need. I think people are seeing the empty shelves at bigger stores and panic buying," Hatcher said.

At a Costco in Vancouver, Washington - where new rules include temporary bans on indoor dining - out-of-stocks included toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning wipes, gloves, and Spam canned meat.

COVID-19: Panic-buying Americans flock to supermarkets, empty toilet paper aisles as states announce new coronavirus restrictions
Photo credit: Getty

And the toilet paper hunt is on again in California, where the Governor on Thursday ordered a curfew placed on all indoor social gatherings and non-essential activities outside the home across most of the state.

Shoppers said toilet paper was sold out at Costco stores in Fresno and LA.

In San Diego, internet marketer Melin Isa took note of renewed shortages during a recent ice cream run to her local Vons. "The TP aisle is bare. Big jugs of milk mostly gone. Lots of ice cream," Isa said.

Charmin maker Procter & Gamble, the No.1 US toilet paper seller, said it is running plants 24/7 to meet demand.

Over the last several months, retailers have had to make major, costly changes to their supply chains to meet unexpected surges in demand.

In a response to a Twitter post complaining about sold out toilet paper and paper towels, Walmart's Sam's Club said, "We're working to replenish these items as fast as humanly possible".