Could We Face Another Round of Grocery Shortages as COVID Cases Spike?

Retailers said they still haven't caught up on some items that were in heavy demand back in the spring

A shopper wearing a protective mask walks down an aisle at a grocery store in Chicago, on May 7, 2020.
Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As coronavirus cases continue to spike across Massachusetts and the country, it raises an important question -- are we going to see shortages of toilet paper and other grocery store staples like we did during the spring surge?

Probably not, at least according to area grocery store chains. This time around, they said they're ready for another round of shutdowns and quarantine, should it come to that.

The Boston Globe spoke with grocery store owners and their suppliers, who said they've been stockpiling items like toilet paper that could be in high demand if people are again stuck in their homes. Retailers also said they are well stocked with popular holiday products, including baking goods and turkeys.

Still, they said they still haven't caught up on some items that were in heavy demand back in the spring, like paper towels and other cleaning products. Fresh produce and meat production could also be affected if there is another COVID-19 surge.

“The level of panic may not be as much as it was in the spring, but I think the consumer demand will be as high through the holidays. Once we are done with the holidays, we are going to start seeing a dip back to normalcy," said Nada R. Sanders, professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University.

With some of the nation's meatpacking companies shutdown due to coronavirus concerns among workers, the limited meat supply around the nation is being felt in local grocery stores.

The recent coronavirus spike in Massachusetts has some concerned the economy could be headed for another shutdown like the one last spring.

Massachusetts officially surpassed 140,000 coronavirus cases on Sunday, with 744 cases. Combined with Saturday's 550 cases and Monday's 827, that represents more than 2,100 new cases of COVID-19 in the state in the last three days alone.

COVID-related hospitalizations have also been on the rise.

Gov. Charlie Baker laid out his plans to deal with a potential second surge in coronavirus cases this winter.

But Gov. Charlie Baker said last week that the state now has the infrastructure in place to withstand a surge in cases, with hundreds of hospital beds at the ready and field hospitals available for activation if needed.

He noted that the state's testing and contact tracing capacity is also far greater now than it was six months ago.

"We are in a very different position with respect to our ability to test and trace and isolate quarantine, and we have far better data that we can make available to our communities and to our health care system than we could last spring, and we've done a lot of work in particular, with the health care community and the long-term care community, to sort of make them far more robust with respect to their ability to deal with whatever might come," Baker said. "I think it's important to remember that we are not where we were in March."

The state has "built a massive infrastructure to respond to this pandemic," he added. Hospital capacity can be quickly expanded if needed, he said, with the ability to convert medical/surgical space into at least 450 intensive care unit beds and the equipment available at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to once again set up temporary COVID-19 treatment facilities.

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