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Store shelves wiped clean of some products amid increasing coronavirus fears

Cleaned-out on aisle 3.

Purell and other cleaning products are gone from the shelves inside the Target in North Attleboro on Monday.
Purell and other cleaning products are gone from the shelves inside the Target in North Attleboro on Monday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Scan the aisles at some supermarkets and stores the past few days, and you’d think a snowstorm was set to descend on Boston.

Shelves have been emptied of bottled water and certain paper products. The frozen food aisles were pillaged. Checkout lines snaked through stores.

But there’s no sign of a Nor’easter on the horizon. Instead, people seemed to be stocking up on food and cleaning and sanitizing products over the weekend amid fears of the further spread of the novel coronavirus — precautionary purchases made in case a quarantine becomes necessary.

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Dedham resident Bryan Healey said he made stops at both his local Costco and Whole Foods on Sunday, just to grab a few items for the work week ahead. But when he arrived, the 36-year-old was met by “pre-snowstorm shopping times 5.

“It was way, way more busy than would normally be expected on a Sunday afternoon,” he said. “It was kind of bizarre.”

Empty shelves of sanitizing wipes in a Walgreens in Boston.
Empty shelves of sanitizing wipes in a Walgreens in Boston. Blake Nissen/For the Boston Globe

Healey said at Costco, specifically, it was “wildly busy," with longer-than-usual lines, empty shelves, and people piling their carts with products.

“Almost all of the toilet paper and tissues were gone, and a lot of frozen foods,” he said. “It seemed pretty obvious people were stocking up on things that can last awhile.”

He said while the stores were certainly crowded, people weren’t acting aggressively toward one another as they grabbed large quantities of goods and headed for the cashier.

Susan Elsbree also paid a visit to the Costco in Dedham. She knew the second she and her husband pulled in, they were in trouble.

“All the made-up parking spaces — the places you can park against the fence and things like that — were already taken. Then we got in and we go in and only about 3 carts were left,” she said.

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Elsbree described the scene as worse than shopping before “all the Super Bowl championships, all the snowstorms — I’ve never seen anything like it.”

At a Target in Westwood Sunday morning, some canned goods, pasta boxes, and other non-perishable items had been stripped from the racks, according to one Globe reporter.

The sudden shopping surge came as reported cases of coronavirus increased over the weekend. Regionally, a 40-year-old man and a teenage girl from Rhode Island — both of whom traveled to Europe on a school trip last month — tested positive for the virus.

On Monday, New Hampshire officials said a hospital system employee who recently traveled to Italy was the first person to test positive for the new coronavirus.

It hasn’t just been the food at some supermarket locations that’s been noticeably absent from shelves. Despite experts saying that wearing a face-mask is largely ineffective when trying to prevent yourself from getting the virus, there has been a run on the items in many CVS and Walgreens locations.

“We have been seeing greater demand for certain products, such as face masks and hand sanitizers, in many of our stores,” a spokeswoman said Monday in an e-mail. “We’re continually and closely monitoring the situation, and continue to work with our supplier partners to best meet the needs of our customers.”

At a Walgreens in downtown Boston, shoppers milled about, hovering near the space where the masks used to be, before abruptly walking away. Exam gloves, “alcohol squares,” and bottles of isopropyl alcohol were also out of stock Monday. Some cold medicines had also been scooped up.

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The scene was similar at a CVS location next door, where a sign reading “Face Mask Are At The Front Register” greeted customers as they approached a shelf, instead of the boxes of masks that are typically there.

When a reporter asked if they were still in stock, however, an employee said they were all sold out. Nearby, a second employee pushed a large cart of cleaning supplies down a store aisle, acknowledging that they’ve had to restock sanitary wipes and other cleaning products every few hours in recent days.

In a statement, a CVS spokesperson said while the company is trying to meet customer demand for items like hand sanitizers and masks, there is not any significant shortage of disinfectant wipes and sprays at this time.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.