The Coronavirus (COVID-19) panic has moved from big cities to even small communities in Southwest Kansas. Everyone has been advised to stay home and practice “social distancing” or staying far away from people. Students at Seward County Community College are moving to online classes and have been encouraged to stay home. Unless they happen to work for a retail store, where the frontlines of the pandemic panic is currently taking place.
COVID-19 has spread across the United States with approximately 42,161 cases, 82 of which are from the state of Kansas. Even though Seward County currently has no positive cases of COVID-19, people are still preparing for the worst and panic buying supplies, leaving the shelves of local stores mostly empty.
Josh Swanson, SCCC student and Dillons employee, has witnessed these events unfold saying things have been “pretty hectic due to mass hysteria” at his place of employment.
“Usually at Dillons we have like two checking lanes open, but lately we need all of them open and even some help from other employees to compensate for the crowds of people,” said Swanson.
Most stores in town have been struggling to keep up with the demand. They have been out of toilet paper, hand sanitizers, Lysol products and have been running low on grocery items like milk, eggs, and bottled water.
“This one guy came in with his wife and bought like 20 packs of water bottles, only to turn around and come back again,” said Swanson.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has encouraged people to avoid close contact with others and avoid crowds, which is near impossible to do at local grocery stores.
Student workers have struggled with trying to remain calm and healthy while having to work under such hectic and crowded conditions. Others, like Swanson, have accepted the situation they are in, saying “if I get it, I get it at this point” because they have to work in close proximity to a vast number of people. And this does not just apply to Dillons, even Walgreens and Walmart.
“It’s impossible to create distance with customers, I’m in contact with so many people it does make me a little uncomfortable and worried,” Chantel Briones, SCCC student and Walgreens employee, said.
However this is just one of the obstacles facing students working retail during times of crisis. Toilet paper and cleaning supplies–which used to be always readily available–are now in such high demand, part-time stockers at stores are having to try and fill that void for the community.
Jose Ayala, an SCCC student and employee at Walmart shared his story of the crisis hysteria at Wal-Mart.
“At Wal-mart, there was a pallet stacked six feet high with assorted juice and water on the bottom. Once people found out water was on the bottom, they began to move things around trying to get to the bottled water, causing a small crowd and a mess of disorganization,” Ayala said.
Shoppers have been trying to keep up with the lack of supplies and the small window of time that supplies are on shelves. Big stores such as Wal-Mart, receive a truck of products everyday in the afternoon. Smaller stores will receive supplies less often like twice a week. Yet with steady supplies coming in, the demand is too high to keep up with, leaving shelves empty.
Ayala said the aftermath was scattered boxes of juice, Gatorade, and other drinks that were picked up by Walmart employees. “There were certain things flying off the shelves so quick that we had to just open boxes and let the customers take, they couldn’t even wait for the items to be stocked.”