It doesn’t work that way

One trend I keep seeing.  People seem to believe that if we can all just properly “social distance” for a few weeks this virus will stop being an issue.

Guys, it doesn’t work that way.

IF we could do a hard lock down on everyone in the country.  No emergency services, no stores, no gas stations.  EVERYONE locked up at home.  For 3 or 4 weeks.  AND test everyone as they came out of lockdown to catch the folks who are sick with no symptoms, maybe it would work that way.

But we can’t do that.  Life doesn’t work that way.  Not to mention that here in the US of A humans are so used to having outside stimulation that they’re going out to the few stores still open just to “browse”.  Seriously.  They’re going to Home Depot and Lowes to browse paint colors.  Design their new kitchen.  Meander around and annoy the fuck out of the employees.

Best we can hope for is that this will slow down the infection rate enough that the hospitals will catch up.  As it is, once the various governments release their “stay at home” orders, I can promise that all those silent carriers of this virus are going to continue to spread it, and the infection rate is going to bloom again.

And once THAT happens the panic might just become a nightmare.  You only THINK it’s bad now.  Right now a fairly large percentage of the population are holding back their panic with the knowledge that this social distancing order is going to save us all.  The panic when they realize it doesn’t work that way is going to be seriously ugly.  Don’t let those prepper stockpiles dwindle to far, cause this summer has the potential to be really really bad.

Along those lines:

The big grocery store next to my work is kinda back to normal stocked on meats.  Kinda, it looks good, till you realize they still only have half the normal selection.  And purchase limits.  Strict purchase limits on milk and eggs mean that they’re well stocked.  There was NO CHEESE except for the weird flavors no one eats.  Dry cereal was well stocked Friday, and wonder of wonders, no purchase limits.  There were purchase limits on pasta, granola bars.  Paper products was still glaringly empty.  Frozen pre-prepared goods had no purchase limits, but the shelves were also still mostly empty.  Breads was better than it had been, but not really normal either, plus purchase limits.  Flour was marginally stocked, as in, maybe 10 bags of AP flour and that was it.

The smaller grocery on my way home is better, meats are damn close to normal.  No purchase limit signs.  Cheeses were pretty well stocked.  No paper goods to speak of, but they never carried much that way.  Freezer goods were sparse.

The Pet Supplies Plus was actually surprisingly well stocked considering that the grocery stores are basically sold out of pet supplies.  However is running a solid week + behind on shipping orders.  Thankfully I only rely on them for odds and ends and not foods.

My work has gotten in one (1) pallet of paper towels (it sold out in 24hrs), and one (1) pallet of toilet paper (it lasted 8hrs), both had purchase limits on them.  There is still no hand soap to be had, we’ve gotten a few cases of sanitizing wipes and they’ve sold out in hours.  No Lysol or other sanitizing sprays to speak of.  The only bleach left is a few cases of highly concentrated “outdoor bleach”.  Last I checked we were almost out of dish soap.  Cleaning supplies in general were basically gutted.

So far none of my co-workers has tested positive.  However my husband started working from home just in time, he got notified Saturday morning that a coworker in the same call center he normally works in just tested positive.  Husband’d been working from home for 12 days.  Quite a few of my coworkers are taking advantage of Home Depots offer of two weeks of PTO for anyone who needs it, and so we’re short handed, even with the shortened store hours.  Not that any of us blame those folks.  A large portion of our employees are “mature”, ie: near or over retirement age.

Deep breath folks.  And keep plugging away.

Home Depot Reducing hours stores are open

Press Release here.

The short form, in order to reduce staffing requirements, and hopefully spread of the virus, all Home Depots nationwide are reducing available shopping hours to 6am to 6pm, effective today.  Employees who normally work later shifts are still being scheduled for those shifts, but will now be spending extra time stocking shelves and cleaning instead of helping customers.

This is actually pretty big news.  Home Depot considers itself to be an emergency service and does its damndest to be open under all conditions.

In other news, I’m home today with the sniffles.  I don’t actually feel sick, I just have a runny nose and mild sinus pressure.  I’m fairly confident that its my sinuses, again.  But if I go into work with the sniffles we’d have half the city in a panic.  So I called out.  I don’t think I’ve EVER had a manager give me less hassle about calling out sick.  No one wants to trigger more panic right now!


Local grocery stores have massively empty shelves.  People are buying anything that’ll store, and alot of things that won’t, in mass quantities.  It took me 3 stops to find a gallon of milk Friday night.  Every 24hr grocery store has started closing for at least a few hours overnight so that they can clean and “restock”, except that they have nothing to stock the shelves with.

Saturday at work I had multiple customers who run local businesses in the store trying to find cleaning supplies because their usual wholesaler has informed them that their usual order has been backordered.  Guys, a local ambulance company was desperately looking for general purpose sanitizers so they could clean the ambulances between patients.  I sold him the case of Microban spray I’d just found in the no-home overheads, he said he felt bad buying the last case in the store, I informed him that if I had to call an ambulance I wanted the damn thing properly cleaned and walked him to the register.

EVERY company runs on Just In Time ordering these days.  Very few companies, including wholesalers, stock large quantities of product above and beyond what they expect to sell within a specific time frame.  The only reason Home Depot stocks as much as they do is because we ARE the supplier for a fair number of commercial enterprises.

Let me give you an example of how crazy the current buying trend is: Every year HD does a big cleaning promo in February & March.  Every year our store gets a 4’x4’x4′ pallet of oversized packages of Clorox wipes.  And EVERY year we sell barely half of that pallet, and the remainder goes clearance and us store employees stock up when they hit 75% off.  That is NOT an exaggeration.  This year?  We sold the last of that pallet of wipes two weeks ago, they never even came close to hitting the 25% off mark.  When I left work at 6pm Saturday night we were on track to sell out of bleach by the end of Sunday.  Even though we’d gotten an emergency shipment.

In order to stop the panic buying they need to refill every single shelf and KEEP THEM FULL for at least two weekends in a row.  Everyone who tried to just buy their normal groceries this past weekend and couldn’t is now going to be doing their damndest to buy an extra one as soon as possible.  The site of empty shelves, even if it’s not for the product they were going to buy, is going to continue to trigger the buying of extra.

If this problem was confined to a state.  If this problem was confined to a region, or even a corner of the country, they’d be able to have the shelves restocked, and full enough to stop the panic buying, in the space of a week.  No problem.

But this is country wide.  EVERY SINGLE  reasonably sized store (and alot of the smaller ones) in the lower 48 (and according to reports, likely Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, and Europe) has sold out of essentially the exact same things.  It’s so bad that even direct from the supplier ordering of supplies like bread flour isn’t an option, both King Arthur Flour’s and Bob’s Red Mill’s websites list their all purpose flours as out of stock until further notice.

The JIT ordering system is fucked.  I don’t think it’s physically possible for warehouses, suppliers, and even manufacturers to push enough product out to the stores fast enough to stem the panic buying in short order.

I hope to god that I’m wrong, oh god do I hope I’m wrong.  Cause if I’m right this mass hysteria is going to do more damage to this country than the damned virus.

But I don’t think I am.

On the other hand, manufacturing of all of these products just got a hell of a boost (and most of these paper products are USA made too).  The trucking companies that move all these products are all looking forward to nice paychecks.  And the timing for agriculture is damn near perfect, everyone I know is doing the math to figure out how many extra fields they can plant and how many extra meat animals they can beef up for slaughter.  If this had gone down mid-late summer agriculture would be hard put to catch up.  So it’s not all bad.  But we have to hold it together to get to that point.

Stock up?

News reports say everyone is stocking up on toilet paper and cleaning supplies.  But it seems to be VERY regional.  Not quite sure what to make of it.  Wegmans (a locally owned grocery chain) is specifically mentioned in local news as being sold out of TP and various cleaning products at two stores not to far from where I work.  But the Wegmans right next door to my work still had reasonably full shelves of TP yesterday (I didn’t think to look at cleaning).  And my work also sells TP, and we still have full shelves as well.

On the other hand, I hope you weren’t planning on buying Clorox/Lysol cleaning/sanitizing wipes this week:

That gaping hole on the top shelve is the HDX generic clorox wipes, and the Clorox branded wipes. The hole in the middle is the Lysol branded wipes. Lysol cleaning sprays aren’t in much better shape, what you see there is whats left in the entire store as of 4pm yesterday, and the only reason we have any left at all is cause they always send us an extra wingstack or two for the cleaning event this time of year.

That’s the hand sanitizer and hand soap shelf space. What you see is what we had left as of 4pm yesterday.

On the other hand, maybe this means that the generally unwashed masses are actually washing? Wouldn’t that be just awesome. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe this’ll result in a drop in the number of flu cases…..

Edited to add: as of the afternoon of March 11th, the toilet paper rush had finally hit my work. Interestingly I noticed that people were buying paper towels almost as much as they bought TP. But apparently the media hasn’t noticed that part yet.