That’s the message from Texas officials and industry representatives, who say preparing for a health disaster like the state's COVID-19 outbreaks is different from a natural disaster.
"There is absolutely no need to go out and stockpile supplies,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday as he declared a statewide emergency. “This isn’t the type of situation like where we see with an oncoming hurricane."
Dya Campos, a spokesperson for H-E-B, said the San Antonio-based grocery chain has been planning to meet coronavirus-inspired demand and echoed the governor’s advice.
H-E-B's strategy to meet increased demand during the ongoing coronavirus crisis is to make sure people will find enough groceries in the stores for months— not to stock up for everyone to buy it all in a day or week.
“If we think long term, we can ease the panic ... if our customers just relax knowing that we are not going to completely run out of product if we can just have the time to be able to restock our shelves," she said.
Campos said there isn't a shortage of products in the supply chain. Shelves are just temporarily empty because customers are buying items faster than trucks can deliver the products. But the stores are replenishing the items daily, she said.
Representatives for Albertsons, Kroger and Walmart did not respond to interview requests.
Joseph Welsh is a retail supermarket consultant and agrees that buyers are overreacting.
He said since grocery stores can’t suddenly increase their inventories for a spike in demand, they usually turn to limits on the number of items per customer and stick to their normal restocking schedule to conserve supplies.
The rush for groceries comes as cases of community spread have appeared in two of Texas’ largest urban areas. Federal and state health officials have encouraged people to slow the spread of coronavirus through social distancing. Businesses and local governments are taking heed by canceling large gatherings and telling employees to work from home.
The state’s capacity for testing people for the virus was limited to about 200 people per day but is expanding to thousands, Abbott said in his declaration of a health disaster Friday.
Campos said some H-E-B stores have started capping the number of essentials per person.
“We really just need Texans to realize that this is going to be a long-term situation,” Campos said. “Unlike a hurricane, [which is] three weeks of intensity and then clean up afterward, Texans need to be prepared for more long-term awareness of coronavirus,” Campos said.
Disclosure: H-E-B and Walmart have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.