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Essential Businesses That Remain Open Face Sanitization, Supply Challenges

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA
The paper goods aisle at the Giant Eagle on the South Side was empty on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 17, the same day that Giant Eagle announced purchase limits on certain items, including toilet paper.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all nonessential businesses to close on Monday in response to the coronavirus, but grocery stores and pharmacies remain open.

Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi have adjusted open hours, increased cleaning schedules, cut out food sampling, temporarily closed food bars, and ordered more stock of basic products, including water, pantry staples, cleaning supplies and premade meals. Dollar General has dedicated its first open hour for elderly customers, so that they can come in immediately after sanitization. Locally-owned East End Food Coop has increased food orders, cancelled events and started closing when the shelves go empty for the day or when foot traffic dies down.

Several stores have modified their open hours to dedicate more time to cleaning and restocking.

A spokesperson for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle said the company has team members solely dedicated to working through a list of sanitization tasks. They have also created purchase limits in response to the increased consumer demand for certain products. Customers can buy a set amount of bottled water, paper products, bread, milk and disinfectant wipes per day.

“Every day, more shipments are coming,” said spokesperson Dan Donovan. “We do not want to cause additional panic, we do it simply to make sure that on that given day, in that given store, we have enough products for as many people who need them.”

Rosemary Mihalko, owner of Hieber’s pharmacy in Oakland, said they have stepped up cleaning procedures and seen a spike in sales as customers try to stock up on medical supplies.

For example, she said previously sold “maybe one [thermometer] a year, in the last three years, but I’ve sold three in a week.”

Mihalko said the pharmacy is currently well supplied for medications and will be able to order more soon, to build up a backstock. But their biggest challenge isn’t in stocking the store; Hieber’s is a compound pharmacy, which means they make the medications in house. But now, they’re having trouble buying the face masks and isopropyl alcohol needed to comply with government regulations.

“It’s actually making it difficult on the essential businesses to remain open if we can’t get the basic necessities to stay open,” Mihalko said.

Hieber’s is currently limited to buying one bottle of isopropyl alcohol per day, and is on a waitlist to purchase facemasks. To help slow supply usage, they assign one pharmacist to preparing medication, rather than rotating constantly through a team.