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Auburn retailers face hand sanitizer shortage

<p>A shelf once stocked with hand sanitizer lies empty in The Drug Store on March 12, 2020, in Auburn, Ala.</p>

A shelf once stocked with hand sanitizer lies empty in The Drug Store on March 12, 2020, in Auburn, Ala.

Pharmacies and grocery stores in Auburn are in short supply of items such as hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol and toilet paper because of the spread of COVID-19 into Alabama. 

As Auburn University announced plans to hold instruction online remotely until April 10, Auburn residents and students in town cleared out shelves of disinfectants and other products.

“We put [hand sanitizer] on the shelf last Thursday, and it was gone before Thursday was over,” said Austin Elkins, a store associate at the Winn-Dixie on South College Street. “When we get any in, within the next few hours it’s gone.”

Elkins said from his experience in the past couple weeks, shoppers who happen to be in the store at the same time employees are restocking disinfectants usually quickly purchase supply once it’s available. New stock typically only brings a few cases of sanitizer bottles, but he expects this number to increase as demand grows.

“When the truck comes in, they kind of send items in a random assortment, so even I don’t know what time of the day I’m going to get to the hand sanitizer,” Elkins said. “I don’t see them sending in a special order second truck to meet demand.”

Customers’ rush for necessities is also extending to prescriptions, which is keeping the pharmacy staff at the Kroger on North Dean Road busy.

“Some people are trying to get refills of their medications ... if it’s going to be paid for by insurance,” said Lara Ojewole, a staff member of the Kroger pharmacy. “It’s not even time for their refills yet, [but] they said they’re trying to get a ball on it.”

She said Kroger’s corporate offices have explained precautionary measures to employees and asked them to continue washing their hands. These guidelines have not included potential store closures that early refill shoppers are concerned about.

“Right now, we’re not even able to get any [hand sanitizer],” Ojewole said. “We used to get a good bit; the station was pretty stocked."

Ojewole said it started running low from the first days that people heard about the virus.

Much like Winn Dixie, Ojewole said disinfectant items at the store are being bought “before we blink an eye.”

Local businesses aren’t spared from item shortages either. The Drug Store, a pharmacy on Stage Road, resupplies its shelves every day, and it still runs out before closing.

Jared Edwards, an employee at the drug store, said they probably had 40 bottles of hand sanitizer before the COVID-19 outbreak and sold around five to ten a week.

Edwards said the store is able to get slightly larger quantities of sanitizer, but they use the same wholesalers that big-box retail chains do, and the demand is limiting every retailer.

Click here to see The Plainsman's full coverage of COVID-19 in the Auburn-Opelika area.

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