Saratoga residents stockpiling to prepare for quarantine

April 2, 2020 — by Jonathan Li and Bill Yuan

Updated 4:48:32 p.m. on Saturday, April 11

Following the rapid worldwide growth of COVID-19, the general public, government officials and media outlets often report and demonstrate dichotomous, contradicting opinions. Social media shows the general public to be split in uneasiness, with some regarding the virus as a bad cold and those on the other extreme having emptied shelves to stockpile on medical equipment, food and toilet paper.  

Upon the Chinese government’s announcement on the subject in late January, many Saratoga residents — particularly those with relatives in China — began to rush stores in hopes of purchasing face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, food and other supplies to prepare. As the virus began its spread outside Chinese borders in mid-to-late February, people began cleaning out various small retailers and stores.

The heavily sought-after disposable N95 respirator masks are sold out in every store, and were, in some cases, reselling for over $50 for a box of 10 on Amazon. Masks of all sorts, including even training and anti-pollution masks, are being sold at $30 to $40 per mask. Many retailers, like Walmart, Target, and Amazon have completely stopped selling these masks to the general public, donating them to hospitals and individuals who need them instead.

Sophomore Isabel Lee’s family has struggled to find N95 face masks, despite the fact that her mom works in a hospital. Lee’s mom said that the supplies hoarded in fear will undoubtedly perish before they are used, and hoarders will have lots of extra supply after the virus clears.

At grocery stores, long lines and empty shelves are also now a common site.

Sophomore Joshua Fang and his family have taken precautions for the recent “shelter-in-place” order by buying lots of food, water and face masks. 

To help combat the lack of medical supplies for individuals in China who were unable to get such equipment in early to mid-February, Fang fundraised with the school’s ACE (Aspiring to Create English) Club and raised around $800 to buy face masks. 

“The western governments really didn’t handle this as well as they should have,” Fang said. “They should’ve taken it seriously when it was first announced.”

Fang and his parents want to be prepared in the case that this disease continues to spread and worsen. He and his family have spent several hundreds of dollars in preparations, and worry that soon, the U.S will begin to mirror China.

With the rate at which COVID-19 is growing, some families in Saratoga are unsure of how to prepare. With the mandatory “shelter-in-place” in effect in Santa Clara County until May 3 and possibly longer, citizens are growing increasingly anxious over COVID-19.

NBC Bay Area reports that, as of April 11, the Bay Area has seen 4,831 confirmed cases and 132 total deaths. There are 1,484 confirmed cases and 50 deaths in Santa Clara County.

Despite living in a six-person household, Lee’s family has not fallen short on supplies due to diligent preparation. “We have been making soup and rice that we can keep for a long time,” she said. “We’ve also had a ‘no waste’ policy. For example, instead of using paper towels we use reusable dish towels.”

Because of their efforts, Lee’s family only needs to go to the grocery store about once a week. When they do need groceries, they tend to only go to the smaller stores like Safeway, Whole Foods or the Korean market, which usually have sufficient goods.

Junior Luca Tang believes the government could have handled this situation much more efficiently. “People are confused as to why the government did not take over this situation immediately,” Tang said. “The government could have initiated quarantine in January.” He said stockpiling doesn’t make sense, noting that it is only the misinformed who stockpile.

“I can understand if you’re buying food,” Tang said. “But toilet paper makes no sense.”

Local businesses providing medical supplies and even sports equipment have witnessed leaps in sales and significant shifts in the retailing business. Additionally, more and more third-party sellers on websites such as Amazon and Walmart are being shut down by the day for price gouging. In a blog posted on March 23 Amazon revealed that they have already removed half a million third-party-sellers.

In Saratoga, families are hunkering down, and in some cases, receiving help from family members living in other countries.

Saratoga resident Richard Li is one of these individuals. He and his family have received hundreds of masks from family members currently living in China. 

“We’re obviously very appreciative,” Li said. “But the majority of our masks will be going to local hospitals and people who actually need it.”

As of April 11, the number of known COVID-19 cases in the United States has surpassed that of any other country in the world with over half a million cases. Local hospitals are bracing for an overwhelming number of patients. Excessive stockpiling is only the latest byproduct over fear caused by the pandemic.

“Unless the government actually takes drastic action, I don't think [hoarding and stockpiling] will slow down anytime soon,” Fang said.

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Photo of the week

At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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