Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The disappearing toilet paper & other COVID-19 updates from Minnesota March 13, 2020

We were running low on fruit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I PROMISED MY ELDEST daughter I would pick up hand sanitizer for her while on routine grocery and big box store runs Thursday evening. We were running low on bathroom cleaning supplies, fresh fruit, bread, milk and other items. This wasn’t a stockpiling outing due to COVID-19, just a regular shopping trip. And picking up sanitizer for her—because she lives in the Twin Cities metro and can’t find any there—would be no big deal. Or so I thought.

 

A look at the toilet paper aisle at Aldi in Faribault on Thursday evening.

 

But upon entering Aldi, my go-to grocer, I immediately realized this would be anything but a typical visit. For one thing, the place teemed with people, unusual for a Thursday evening. Then I started noticing the empty and emptying shelves. We’re talking everything from almonds to bread to no spinach. But it was the toilet paper aisle that caused me to pause and take a photo. The toilet paper shortage repeated itself at Walmart and then at Fareway Foods.

As Randy and I waited to check out our groceries (no hoarding by us and no hand sanitizer for the daughter), I commented to the clerk about the sold-out merchandise and the crowd. She informed me that Aldi expected to do $21,000 in sales that day, typical for what she termed a “slow day.” But when we checked out at 7 pm, that total had already reached $42,000. They were unprepared, she said, explaining the emptying shelves. An Aldi semi pulled into the parking lot while we loaded our purchases into the van and then headed for Walmart. The Aldi clerk warned us of long lines there.

But we needed cleaning supplies and I was still searching for the elusive hand sanitizer. At Walmart I grabbed a package of bar soap, not anti-bacterial, but found no hand sanitizer. Back in the cleaning supplies aisle, Randy experienced the same issue with no Lysol wipes and none of the brand of bath or toilet bowl cleaners I use. There were few choices on the nearly-cleared shelves. And good luck finding toilet paper.

For probably the first time ever, we left Walmart without buying anything. I didn’t need three bars of soap bad enough to wait in line. Not that the lines were horrendous, but long enough to cause us to exit empty-handed.

We had one last stop, at a smaller grocery store which has a meat counter we especially like. That presented one final opportunity to purchase hand sanitizer and the elusive cleaning supplies. But before I got to the cleaning aisle, I bumped into a friend who blames the Chinese and U.S. governments for getting us into this current pandemic. And then I met a woman who stood in disbelief before the empty toilet paper shelves. She wondered aloud about what she termed “media-driven hysteria” and lack of concern by the general public regarding the 18,000 (her number, not mine) deaths caused by influenza. I engaged in a brief conversation, quickly realizing that, if I didn’t want to get into an altercation in the toilet paper aisle, I best not continue talking to her.

In the end, I found the cleaning supplies I wanted at Fareway Foods, but no hand sanitizer. And I grabbed two containers of ice cream to add to the few items in our grocery cart. I wasn’t hoarding. The ice cream was on sale. And I like ice cream.

 

This sign along I-90 welcomes travelers to Minnesota along the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

UPDATES FROM MINNESOTA: Five more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Minnesota today, bringing the total number to 14 with two of those individuals hospitalized. One is “acutely-ill,” according to Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm

The commissioner shared that information during a 1 pm news conference in which Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a peace-time state of emergency. This declaration gives him the power to mandate community measures to protect health and safety if need be. Currently, Minnesota officials are recommending canceling gatherings of 250 people or more, social distancing of six feet, limiting visitors to senior care centers and many other strategies we’ve already heard implemented elsewhere. Both Walz and Malcolm stress that we are in this together and must do our part to keep each other safe. Walz called the community level strategies “science based” and “societal measures.”

In my community, at least one school, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a private college prep school with students from around the world, is transitioning to distance learning, according to an article in the Faribault Daily News. At this point, state officials are not recommending school closures. But, as the governor stated, decisions related to the Coronavirus are “evolving decisions.”

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

So what do we do? Stay calm. Prepare, within reason. Recognize the vulnerability of older people and those with underlying health conditions. Follow the guidelines for gatherings and social distancing. Wash our hands. Cover our coughs. Stay home if we’re not feeling well. And, plain and simple, use common sense.

And if it helps, eat ice cream.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling