Despite a run on cough medicine and paper products – and the occasional sight of a face mask – shoppers kept their coronavirus preparations low-key on Saturday following the first diagnoses of the illness in Maine.

The Hannaford supermarket on Forest Avenue in Portland was well stocked after a busy night on Friday, but select items were either in short supply or gone entirely. Rice, beans and pasta were dwindling; cough syrup and disinfectant were almost nowhere to be seen.

The aisle for paper towels, toilet paper and tissues was almost empty. Someone, perhaps with a twisted sense of humor, had left a six-pack of Corona Light beer on an empty shelf. Nearby, a young woman climbed onto a shelf and posed as friends took a photo.

Yet most shoppers interviewed on Saturday said they had come for their regular business, and not to stock up.

“Really what’s important is not to panic,” Barb Skop of Falmouth said as she loaded her groceries into the back of her car.

Skop, who works in admitting at Maine Medical Center, said people should focus on personal hygiene – hand-washing, personal distancing – so as to protect the truly vulnerable part of the population.


“Just wash your hands, people!” she said.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing one’s hands often, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. The public health agency also says Mainers should avoid touching their faces and mouths with unwashed hands, avoid close contact with sick people and stay home if they feel unwell.

Maine saw its first confirmed cases this past week, with one in Androscoggin County, and then two more “presumptive positive” tests later in the week – a woman in her 20s, and a worker at Portland’s India Street health clinic. Authorities have closed the clinic and are asking workers to isolate themselves as they track who else the health worker may have come into contact with.

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends stocking up on supplies like groceries and paper tissues, that is for people who have a higher risk of getting very sick, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Shoppers on Saturday lamented the short supplies – and short tempers – created by the virus.

Kristi Johnson of Munjoy Hill in Portland said she watched a customer yell at a deli counter worker because the store was low on meat.


“Respect the employees,” she said. “It’s not their fault if they’re out of something.”

Particularly in short supply? Toilet paper.

“You couldn’t get a roll of toilet paper if you went to hell with a hand cart,” said Debbie Gray as she waited for a ride outside the Hannaford.

The sign at City Beverage in Portland on Saturday.

Gray, a Portland resident, urged shoppers to leave some supplies behind, rather than hoard as much as they can.

Soon after, Betty Lasu, also of Portland, wheeled a cart of diapers, disinfecting hand wipes and bottled water to her car. Lasu, a single mother, said she was stocking up because of the potential strain on her family if she or a child got sick.

In the last several days, she has spent roughly $600 on food and supplies, checking different stores when she couldn’t find particular items.


“I take care of my kids, and I want to keep them safe,” she said. Because she doesn’t have family here, she said, “I can’t ask someone, ‘Can you run out to the store for me?’ ”

The toilet paper shortage was such that, on Saturday afternoon, City Beverage, a convenience store on Exchange Street, was selling it for $10 a roll.

“No, its not a Joke,” read a handmade sign.

A man inside who said he was the owner and identified himself only as “Joe,” said the price was a direct result of a squeeze by his suppliers.

Whatever the price, he said, “We’ve got to have it.”

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