As coronavirus concerns grow in Alaska, officials warn shoppers not to overdo it

The toilet paper shelve stands nearly empty at Fred Meyer in Midtown Anchorage on March 3, 2020. (Julia O’Malley/Alaska Public Media)

Photos of bare grocery store shelves and long checkout lines have flooded social media channels this week. And with Thursday’s announcement of Alaska’s first case of coronavirus, people are stocking up. Jeremy Zidek, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said that’s smart, but he said buying toilet paper in bulk might be excessive.

“We would ask people to be realistic about what they’re going to need for a week or two. We recommend people have emergency supplies for seven days. Two weeks would be the ideal,” he said.

Zidek said it’s unlikely the coronavirus outbreak will cause a disruption to the delivery of goods from out of state. Many of those supplies come north to the port in Anchorage from Seattle.

“The ports are open,” he said, “and there’s no restrictions on U.S. based cargo vessels to Alaska at this time.”

Two shipping terminals in Seattle slowed operations and a third shut down completely on Friday, the Seattle Times reported. But the slowdown comes in response to a decline in cargo arriving from China and not because of the virus itself. 

Seattle has been hit hard by COVID-19. But Zidek said that should not cause concern for consumers in Alaska.

“There’s also no evidence to support that COVID-19 can be transported in imported goods and there hasn’t been any cases of that in the United States so, there’s no real inherent danger to transporting goods,” he said.

Many Alaskans keep their freezers stocked with meat they’ve hunted and fish they’ve caught themselves. And Zidek said that is going to help in coming weeks as the coronavirus emergency plays out. 

“I think the tendency is whenever you have a bit more remote community you have to be more self sufficient,” Zidek said.

By Monday, officials in Alaska say they will have a unified command response team mobilized to respond to COVID-19 in Alaska. This includes four agencies: Health and Social Services, Emergency Management, Military and Veterans Affairs and Public Safety.

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