Paranoia and Panic Buying Leaves Stores Wiped Out

by Eplunus Colvin and Kaley Baker

After Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the first case of a presumptive positive COVID-19 case last week in Jefferson County, it didn’t take long for the state of Arkansas to react, but not in the way you would expect.

A day later after the first COVID-19 was announcement by the governor, five new presumptive cases of coronavirus were founded. The affected counties were Jefferson, Grant, Saline and Pulaski and as of Sunday, there were 16 confirmed positive cases.

Reports of panic buying were a result of the news in those counties, but Arkansas County also reacted, resulting in stockpiling and buying in sweeps.

From the Stuttgart Walmart, to Family Dollar on 19th and Main Street, to Piggly Wiggly, Dollar General, and Kroger in DeWitt, the fear of COVID-19 has driven residents of Arkansas County to grocery stores and retail chains to stock up on necessities like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers and water, leaving not a trace of goods for the average consumer. “We need to avoid panic buying,” said Governor Asa Hutchison.

Many stores in the county were directly hit with a shortage of toilet paper and water due to the panic buying, with businesses even going as far as restocking the products multiple times a day and doubling their orders. Walmart said in a released statement last week that as the coronavirus situation continues to evolve, they know it is top of mind for their customers. “We see it in the items people are buying and hear it in the conversations we’re having in our stores,” read the release. “As one would expect, paper products, cleaning supplies and other items are in high demand as customers prepare for the possible impact of COVID-19. We are working to replenish those items quickly, including diverting products to areas of the country where they are needed most and routing deliveries directly to stores. We have also authorized our store managers to manage their inventory, including the discretion to limit sales quantities on items that are in unusually high demand.”

Hutchinson says while it is wise to have enough for a short period of time in the house, you don’t need to purchase enough to last for a month or two months. “Groceries stores will be open and they will be available to supply chains to the United States of America,” said Hutchinson. “We have seen illustrations of panic buying, urgent buying and we don’t need that.” And while stores will try to keep up with the high demand of their products, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge warns retailers against price gouging.

Arkansas County residents have accused several stores of allegedly marking their prices up on water and toilet tissue. “Gov. Asa Hutchinson's announcement of a Statewide Public Health Emergency Declaration triggered Arkansas' law on price gouging,” said Rutledge. “That law will be in effect for at least a month.” Price gouging is when a seller increases the prices of goods, services or commodities higher than what is considered reasonable or fair. Usually this event occurs after a demand or supply shock, such as what the COVID-19 cases have caused. “The punishment for price gouging is a fine of up to $10,000,” Rutledge said.

Hutchinson urges Arkansans to stop panic buying. “We need to be calm,” said Hutchinson. “We need to understand that the grocery stores and the food and essential supplies will be available in the normal course in the coming weeks and the coming months as well.”

We at the DeWitt Era-Enterprise have the general public and our subscribers in mind during the COVID-19 epidemic and we are geared up to let you know about all of the closings in Arkansas County. A fully updated list can be found on our website under “Arkansas County Closings” or a direct link to the article can be found on our Facebook page. The following is a list of closings as of Monday, March 16, 2020:

•Ameca Inc. in DeWitt will be offering drive thru pickup ONLY.

•The DeWitt Public Library closed.

• Phillips Community College in DeWitt, Stuttgart, and Helena was in session on Monday, March 16th to prepare students for the closing beginning Tuesday, March 17th. Faculty and staff will report to work the remainder of this week and proceed with Spring Break the following week.

•The DeWitt and Stuttgart School District closed.

•DeWitt Hospital has begun monitored access. Patients are limiting all patient visitors to ONE per patient at a time. Visiting hours are 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

•All Senior Citizens Centers in Southeast Arkansas closed.

•Arkansas Post Museum State Park, Hwy 165, Gillett has suspended all events and activities planned at the park this month until further notice.

• The March Chamber Meeting in DeWitt has been canceled.

•Riceland, Producers, Dale Bumpers, and the Stuttgart National Aquaculture Center have canceled all meetings and tours and visitors are not permitted into those facilities.

•DeWitt Nursing Home and Crestpark Nursing Home in DeWitt and Stuttgart is restricting all visitors until further notice. You may call to check on your loved ones for the time being.

• PCCUA DeWitt Campus Annual Scholarship Luncheon to be held on April 2nd has been canceled.

•All PCCUA DeWitt campus activities, rentals, or groups coming to the campus have been canceled until April 4.

Closings will be updated as we receive them. Please check back for the latest information.