By Ben Orner, Capitol News Illinois
As store shelves across Illinois empty of key products during the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private-sector leaders are urging shoppers to put less stress on the supply chain by not hoarding items.
Since the pandemic intensified in Illinois last week, customers have been panic-buying and hoarding products like toilet paper, tissues, hand sanitizer, bread and pasta. Signs posted on cleaned-out shelves ask customers to limit their purchases of such high-demand items to a few or even one.
But perceived shortages of products are being caused not by a lack of supply, but by a panicked demand.
“This is an entirely self-created problem,” said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
“There’s no shortage, there’s no need for hoarding, there’s no thoughts of closing grocery stores,” he said. “Just stick to your normal patterns, and there would be plenty for everyone.”
Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau echoed those concerns during a Monday press briefing.
“There is no need to purchase dozens of packages of toilet paper at any one time,” she said. “Let me be clear: Hoarding is irresponsible. Please be considerate with others.”
Tate-Nadeau added that when people hoard food and supplies, “they are hurting our most vulnerable neighbors. Please stop buying more than you need,” she said.
While restaurants and bars are closed to dine-in customers, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and stores that sell cleaning supplies, pet supplies and electronics remain open.
“They’re worn out, but they’re working hard. They’re rising to the challenge,” Karr said of store workers. “They’re working 24/7 to replenish their stores (and) keep their stores clean to meet the needs.”
Despite the “tremendous stress” Karr said panic-buying and hoarding has put on inventories, he said supply chains continue to work normally.
“There is absolutely nothing deficient about the supply chain,” Karr said. “It is working. In fact, it is answering the call. But we would not have to be taking these extraordinary measures if people would shop normally.”
Illinois’ largest group of manufacturers said the same about the flow of products from producer to seller.
“It’s important for Illinoisans to remain calm and understand that the food supply chain remains strong and robust,” Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, said in a statement Sunday.
Karr said he is working with the Illinois Department of Labor to suspend the state’s One Day Rest in Seven Act, which requires workers to have at least 24 hours of rest every week “so that willing employees can work longer hours at distribution centers if they want to get overtime.” An IDOL spokesperson did not respond to Capitol News Illinois’ request for comment.
Karr also said he is working with municipalities to suspend overnight delivery restrictions.
President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration on Friday prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to loosen limits on driving hours for American truckers carrying certain food and medical supplies and equipment. It is the first time the rules have been suspended since they were enacted in 1930.
The Springfield-based Mid-West Truckers Association said Monday that the Illinois Department of Transportation plans to issue a weight variance waiver for “trucks transporting medicine, food and other necessary supplies.” An IDOT spokesperson could not comment on specifics.
Illinois had reported 105 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, though the number is likely higher due to scarcity of testing. There have been no recorded deaths from the disease in the state.
Since groceries might see the largest gatherings of people at one time during the outbreak, Karr advised shoppers to continue their normal virus prevention practices, including washing hands, and staying home when sick. He also suggested shoppers wipe down carts with disinfectant before using them.
For those with general COVID-19 questions, the Department of Public Health maintains a hotline at 1-800-889-3931 and an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).