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El Paso disinfectant distributor warns virus panic shopping must stop – or shortages will continue

EL PASO, Texas -- Many are stocking up on essentials like food, toilet paper and sanitizing wipes. "Sold Out" signs and labels are an all-too-familiar sight, frustrating shoppers across the country. It's something that one local distributor says we may have to get used to, because if the shopping doesn't slow down, the shortages might not either.

"As fast as it's coming up, that's as fast as its going out," said Sean Sterling, the general manager of Southwestern Mill Distributors, an El Paso company that distributes disinfectants, paper products and other supplies.

The demand on the company has grown as Covid-19 has spread, picking up about two weeks ago. The company is seeing the biggest shortages in hand sanitizers, disinfecting chemicals and wipes. They do not know when some of the orders they have placed with suppliers will be filled.

That demand is similar for other companies across the country. A new Nielsen report found sales for hand sanitizer in the United States spiked 228% in the four weeks ending on March 7, compared to the same time period last year.

"We've never seen anything like this before, and we're usually never out of product. And our suppliers are actually running low," Sterling said.

Some of the company's customers are other companies that are contracted to clean hospitals in El Paso.

""We're trying to find alternatives, as we run out of products," Sterling said. "We're trying to find a new approved disinfectant to kill the coronavirus. We're trying to find any other ways we can help the community out."

Healthcare leaders say the 'panic shopping' must stop. The Chief Medical Officer of University Medical Center said the habit can have consequences, particularly for older adults and at-risk individuals.

"I think it makes a big burden for them and it puts them at an increased jeopardy if they have to keep hunting for these supplies," said Dr. Joel Hendryx.

Sterling agrees, and said if the hoarding doesn't stop, the shortages never will.

"Buy only what you need," he said, "because this is going to continue to keep happening in the market."

Coronavirus Video / El Paso / News / Video

Madeline Ottilie

Madeline Ottilie is a reporter on Good Morning El Paso and co-anchors ABC-7 at noon.

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