Product demand amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Toilet paper — among a growing list of items — is in short supply in Walker County and around the nation as people are stocking up on the popular staple due to the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

The Daily Mountain Eagle polled readers on Facebook Friday to ask if they were purchasing more of particular items, such as toilet paper. Over 300 people responded as of press time, with 91 percent of readers voting they were not making more purchases than usual.

Store shelves on Friday told a different story.

The Dora and Jasper Walmart locations were out of toilet paper and other items, such as cleaning supplies and pain medications, on Thursday evening, according to Daily Mountain Eagle readers.

Their reports were confirmed when the Eagle visited Jasper Walmart around noon on Friday, which appeared to be as crowded as a typical Black Friday. No toilet paper was in stock at the retailer, and paper towels were in low supply. Cleaning supplies, over the counter medications, bleach, and other items were completely out of stock or in low supply as well.

Walmart Jasper General Manager Chris Rhodes told the Daily Mountain Eagle on Friday that the store will continue to receive shipments of groceries and consumables daily. In fact, it was overheard in the store on Friday that two pallets of toilet paper were about to be placed on store shelves.

Down the road on Highway 78, Winn-Dixie grocery store was out of toilet paper around noon Friday as well but store shelves were stocked with cleaning supplies.

Winn-Dixie store managers declined to comment on inventory or when items will be back in stock. 

Son's Supermarket on 9th Avenue in Jasper was one of few retailers in Walker County to have toilet paper in stock Friday.  

"We still have stock (of many items) and hopefully we'll have some more coming in tomorrow, so we should be in good shape," Son's Manager Terry Merchant said.

He said the grocery store is also making sure customers have access to products to prevent germs.  

"One thing that we do — and have always done — is we have canister stands with sanitary wipes in them at the front of the store," Merchant said, adding that another stand with disinfecting wipes is located near the store's meat section.

Merchant said the store is being cleaned more often as well.

Like other retailers, Son's has seen an increase in business recently as customers prepare for the impacts of COVID-19.

"People are stocking up. I think what has happened is people have seen that a lot of things are being bought up and they're worried they're not going to be able to get something when they need it," Merchant said. "I would like everybody to know that here at Son's we always have and always will do everything that we can to make sure that our establishment and our employees that work here are doing everything in their power to make sure that everything is clean and sanitized as well as we possibly can with as much public traffic as we have coming through."

More fast-food restaurants responding to COVID-19 concern

Press releases involving many chain restaurants in Jasper also came through on Friday. 

Jimmy's Egg corporate office sent out an email stating that cleaning and sanitizing is occurring more frequently at all restaurants. An enhancement of hand-washing procedures for employees is also occurring.

"We will continue to work around the clock to ensure our teams are going above and beyond in keeping our restaurants safe for all," Jimmy's Egg President Kevin Burk said in the press release.

Zaxby's CEO Zach McLeroy said in an email to customers Friday morning that the restaurant team has a dedicated task force that is working with public health officials to determine measures to continue monitoring the safety of its restaurants.

"For the immediate future, we are using single-use, disposable packaging for all orders both in the drive-thru and dining room, as our inventory allows," McLeroy announced. "In addition to this change, we are taking extra steps to ensure our restaurants are as clean and safe as possible when you visit."

In addition, Zaxby's restaurants will be providing hand sanitizing stations in dining rooms, cleaning areas more frequently, and implementing signage to encourage handwashing.

KFC President Kevin Hockman announced that measures are being taken to enhance the health safety of employees and customers at its over 4,000 restaurants. 

"Since last week, we have increased the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing throughout our restaurants to hourly, particularly high-touch areas such as front counters, pin pads, tables, trays and more," Hockman said in an email. "We’re reinforcing our already strict sanitation, handwashing, and health and wellness policies for our employees, and ensuring hand sanitizer is always available in every one of our restaurants. We’ve also created a hotline for our restaurant teams and franchise partners so we can provide real-time support to our restaurant teams around the clock."