The COVID-19 outbreak is spreading in Pennsylvania, with near two dozen cases in the state’s easternmost counties and Gov. Tom Wolf urging residents and organizations to cancel gatherings of more than 250 people.
LNP | LancasterOnline sent reporters throughout Lancaster County to find out what residents are saying and doing. We went to stores, hotels, restaurants, churches, gyms and more. We also called some businesses to gauge the impact of a potential coronavirus spread.
Here is what our reporters saw and heard in the county on Thursday.
Costco Wholesale, Hempstead Road
A shopper wearing a face mask and exiting the store with a cart full of goods greeted an LNP | LancasterOnline reporter entering the Costco in Lancaster. Inside, the store was packed at 12:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon -- almost every check-out station had a line.
But the real action was in the back of the store, where the toilet paper, paper towels and water are located. Only one pallet of toilet paper was left in the store.
The supplies placed at ground level ran out and about three dozen shoppers waited in the aisle for a Costco employee to bring a lift to get additional pallets down. While waiting, several people decided to reach for the paper towels and started taking packs out and handing them to shoppers. Shortly after, a Costco employee cleared the entire aisle to allow the lift through.
Keeping the shoppers outside of the aisle, the employees took down pallets and handed out packs of the paper towels and water, allowing a maximum of two per customer. The single pallet of toilet paper was gone within a minute.
According to a Costco employee, the store will have a delivery of one brand of toilet paper on Saturday. But the others, “they haven’t scheduled yet.”
One shopper, who walked up to the chaos in the back of the store, turned and asked another shopper, “Is everyone here for the coronavirus? I actually ran out.”
The other shopper, who had calmly watched the aisle get cleared out, shrugged her shoulders and responded, “So did I.”
Hurubie Meko, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gingrich’s Food Market, Bainbridge
Early Thursday evening, Rodney Gingrich wore a black apron as he stood near the checkout counter inside his small Bainbridge grocery store, Gingrich’s Food Market.
Behind him, bags of cough drops were hung on metal pegs, an apt backdrop for the discussion about how concerns about COVID-19 have affected his business.
Customers, both regular and new, have been buying up sought-after items, he said.
Hand sanitizer had been sold out for more than a week, Gingrich said.
There was a similar run on rubbing alcohol, toilet paper, and certain kinds of bleach, Gingrich said, though he still had those items in stock. The bleach was especially baffling.
“They must be washing down their houses,” he guessed, talking about his customers.
He described the increase in business as similar to when a big snowstorm is predicted. People must be worried, he said.
“I didn’t think it would get like this,” he said.
Food items like bread and milk were still in stock, but Gingrich worried that the demand for his store’s groceries could increase in the coming days and weeks.
“They are overdramatizing this,” he said, criticizing the attention the illness is getting. “Just keep washing your hands.”
Sean Sauro, email@example.com
Wegmans, Harrisburg Pike, and Park City Center
There were sights at Wegmans off Harrisburg Pike you might typically see before a large-scale weather event — people with carts full of paper towels and bottled water.
This one, however, was a little different.
Toiletries were all gone, as were hand antiseptics.
The only hand sanitizers were at each of the supermarket’s entrances. “We politely ask that you apply hand sanitizer before you enter our store,” read a sign affixed to the hand sanitizer dispensers.
One couple drew stares as they walked down the aisles wearing face masks and latex gloves.
Hand sanitizing stations were also at entrances at Park City Center. Despite light foot traffic, stores appeared to be operating normally.
Junior Gonzalez, firstname.lastname@example.org
Universal Health Club, Oregon Pike
“We've always made sure that club cleanliness was one of our priorities,” said Jon Seibel, facility director at Universal. A lot of the cleaning procedures the club is doing now were already done before, Seibel said.
“We simply upped our game even more,” he said. “For example, we put up a whole bunch more of the sanitizer stations, we have wipe stations to top of the handrails, we have propped open our doors into a lot of our studios so people don't have to touch door handles, we even have hand sanitizer outside so that when people are coming in, if they want it, if they feel the need to sanitize their hands.”
The staff also has increased the frequency of the intensive sanitizing treatment they apply to everything in the facility from about once a month to once a week, and the facility has changed to stronger sanitizing sprays.
So far, the club hasn’t noticed a decrease in how many people come to the gym, Seibel said. The Manheim Township location averages 2,000 people per day.
The club sent emails to members and has handouts encouraging them to wipe down all of their equipment, wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their faces and if they’re not feeling well, “PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE AND STAY HOME.”
Hurubie Meko, email@example.com
Fulton Steamboat Inn, Route 30
The Fulton Steamboat Inn still had a steady stream of guests entering the building for one- and two-night stays.
Stephen Sikking, managing partner at both the Steamboat and Eden Resort & Suites, said that just days ago, this weekend’s bookings were nearly at full capacity, though they have now fallen a significant percentage. Most arriving guests made coronavirus-related small talk, including this exchange with an employee.
“We’ve taken the steps to wipe down every single room key between uses,” said the employee chipperly, handing the key to a woman checking in.
“Yeah, but you just touched it before handing it to me,” the woman said.
The employee apologized profusely, explaining she had just come from washing her hands. However, the woman asked for her to wash the key once more.
Small grocers in Lancaster city
At Asian market Viet My, 550 N. Franklin St., among the bean sprouts, fresh tofu and jackfruit bigger than your head, manager Samantha Chang said her customers are in preparation mode.
“Two weeks ago, there was a flurry of customers, almost in a panic,” Chang said. “Rice was flying out the door.” Chang said they were loading up on other staples, including canned sardines, noodles and instant noodles. This week, there’s been a steady flow of customers, she said, with people filling their carts. In an alcove where a woman was making banh mi sandwiches to order, she offered a pump of hand sanitizer after making this reporter’s sandwich. “No corona here,” she said proudly.
Over at Asian Market at 248 E. Liberty St., manager Sokha Meas has noticed his customers are stocking up on jasmine rice. “No one is going crazy,” he said over the phone. “At the moment, we are doing fine. People seem aware of what is going on and yet they also need food.”
Qassem Ali, who owns Tabarek International Foods, 798 New Holland Ave., a purveyor of Middle Eastern and south Asian ingredients, said business is about the same. “People call me about the rice,” he told me. “But otherwise, things are quiet, not like Costco.”
Bill Mandros, the namesake owner of Mandros Imported Foods, 351 N. Charlotte St., said things are “pretty much business as usual” with customers stocking up on “Mandros stuff – olive oil, condiments and cheeses.”
Down the street at Lemon Street Market, owner Trish Haverstick reported they’ve sold out of hand sanitizer and Seventh Generation disinfecting wipes. In the meantime, they’ve endeavored to make their own spray sanitizer with witch hazel and essential oils, which contain antibacterial properties, as well as an immune-supporting elderberry syrup. Haverstick said that through their email newsletter, they’re trying to educate customers on ways to stay healthy, including cooking with immune-supporting ingredients, such as ginger and leafy greens.
Kim O’Donnel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tanger and Rockvale outlets, Lincoln Highway East, Route 30
At the twin shopping centers, Tanger and Rockvale, business was more or less normal, with a steady number of cars dotting the large parking lots. At the former, General Manager Monica Trego calmly explained that the shops would be following CDC guidelines for cleanliness, with added janitorial staff on Saturdays. Shops will remain open, though concerned shoppers can stop by the main office for an official printout from Chief Executive Officer Steven B. Tanger explaining cleanliness guidelines for retail staff.
At Rockvale, office staff was cooking brownies and inflating balloons for the outlet’s “St. Pooch’s Day Carnival,” currently still scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. According to Facebook, nearly 900 people are either “Going” or “Interested.”
Kevin Stairiker, email@example.com
Prom & wedding retailers
Though prom and wedding season is around the corner, coronavirus fears haven’t dented business at the county’s formal wear shops so far, judging from the experience of five retailers here on Thursday.
“Not at all,” said a sales clerk at Boscov’s department store at Park City Center, which sells prom and wedding gowns, when asked if COVID-19 is having an impact on business.
“We haven’t heard any concerns yet,” said Matt McCormick, store manager at Men’s Wearhouse, Manheim Pike. “But we’re constantly monitoring it. Like with the major sports leagues taking preventive measures, things could change.”
Tami Johnson, owner of Bella Rose Bridal Boutique in the Shoppes at Belmont, said her prom and wedding gown customers have yet to voice any worries. However, she’s gotten some new customers recently — women who ordered gowns from other retailers who have them made in China, which had its industry disrupted by the virus. “I was lucky,” said Johnson. “I only have one designer who’s in China” and Bella Rose had a large selection of her gowns in inventory before the outbreak.
“We have a very calm group of brides … ,” Janell Berte, owner and designer of Posh Bridal on South West End Avenue, said. “I haven’t gotten a single phone call, to be honest with you.” Berte said gowns she’s ordered from designers “all over the world” are arriving at her shop on time.
Shari Kendall, owner/buyer of the bridal shop In White, reported a similar experience.
“So far we have been very lucky. Our designers are all open and our gowns are, so far, all on-time. We have had one customer postpone a visit to our store out of courtesy, since she lives in an area where there is an outbreak,” said Kendall.
Tim Mekeel, firstname.lastname@example.org
American Music Theatre, Route 30
American Music Theatre was set for an evening Martina McBride concert. Staff was confident enough the show would go on that McBride was already in the building well into the afternoon. However, just a few hours later, a statement was released explaining the show would be postponed to a later date.
Buffets, restaurants on Route 30
For a late afternoon, Miller’s Smorgasbord still had a stable amount of customers. A few asked for regular staff by name, only to be told some of them had swapped out shifts. Jonathan Smith, general manager at Miller’s, insisted that health concerns for staff, customers and even the companies they receive food from would be held to even higher levels of scrutiny than already in place for a smorgasbord.
“You can probably plan to come back and ask the same questions in three years when there’s another presidential election,” Smith said.
The employees at Golden Corral, at 2291 Lincoln Highway East, remained in good spirits, despite only one large group at the restaurant around 1 p.m.
In the parking lot, one woman said to another, “It feels like we’re cheating nature, you know?”
It was not determined whether they were about to enter or had just left the Golden Corral.
It seems as though no matter what time of day it is, it can be assured that any Chick-fil-A establishment will feature full tables and an around-the-building line of cars, and even around 3 p.m., this was exactly the scene at 2467 Lincoln Highway East. Conversations seemed to center on anything other than the confirmed global pandemic, potentially making the chicken restaurant a good place to hide out from current events in the future.
Target, 2385 Covered Bridge Road
Even in the few short days of toilet paper buying and hand sanitizer stocking, national retail chains have reportedly been bombarded with more customers than usual. The carnage could be seen in full effect on select shelves at the Target located at 2385 Covered Bridge Road. While most of the shelves that had previously held toilet paper were bare, there were generic, one-ply variations still readily available, perhaps suggesting that, while an increased drive to scoop up toilet paper does exist, it still comes down to the specific touch and the feel of cotton.
Kevin Stairiker, email@example.com
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, South Prince Street, Lancaster
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lancaster is taking “various precautions” in the wake of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Pastor Rev. Brian Wayne said the church removed water from the holy water fonts, discourages holding or shaking hands during mass and only using bread for communion – with no wine. Additionally, Wayne said older parishioners were reminded that “they shouldn’t have any guilt” for skipping mass, as their health should be their main priority. Additionally, Friday night meals for the homeless will be brown bags, starting next week. Mass has continued per usual, but on Thursday night, Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Diocese of Harrisburg granted dispensation for Catholics on their Sunday obligation, meaning they do not have to attend weekly Mass.
Ty Lohr, firstname.lastname@example.org
Following the recommendations of Gov. Tom Wolf, churches in Lancaster County are making chan…
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