Toilet paper panic grips Routt County, but residents manage with humor |

Toilet paper panic grips Routt County, but residents manage with humor

City Market in Steamboat Springs had this sign affixed to empty shelves on Saturday, March 14.
Courtesy photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The toilet paper gods were smiling upon the Thiel family this weekend. Katie Thiel was walking down an aisle at City Market in Steamboat Springs on Saturday morning when a small miracle happened.

“He (the store clerk) came walking out from the back with one packet of toilet paper and set it on the shelf, and I just happened to walk up in that moment,” said a grinning Thiel. “I hadn’t seen toilet paper in a week.”

The Thiels are just one of the many families in Routt County who are taking the toilet paper shortage in good humor.

“You can go to McDonalds and buy something off the dollar menu and steal some toilet paper,” suggested Ernie Thiel.

He was joking of course, but if you happened to go by City Market during the early hours last week, you’d have seen lines at 6 a.m. as shoppers waited for the store to open — all due to fears surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Saturday night, a sign was still up on the City Market toilet paper shelves saying sanitation, cold and flu products would be limited to five each per customer. But a manager said the store is now limiting customers to three each.

City Market also has temporarily shortened its operating hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to give their workers a break to clean and restock. The store’s manager provided Steamboat Pilot & Today with a national number to speak with parent company, King Sooper, and its media representatives had not returned calls as of press deadline. Walmart also had not returned Pilot & Today’s calls and emails.

Meanwhile, it’s the same story at all the retailers that carry toilet paper, hand sanitizer and thermometers. Steamboat’s Walgreens got its weekly shipment of supplies Friday, March 13, and workers there said products didn’t even reach the shelves before buyers snapped up toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and masks.

At Walmart on Saturday night, a lucky shopper managed to snag the last two packs of sanitizer wipes, thanks to her boyfriend who saw them while browsing.

“I was shopping elsewhere and had given up,” said Stephanie Blake. “I’m a piano teacher, so I need them to wipe off the piano in between lessons every time. I was running out.”

COVID-19: Follow our coverage

Before immediately heading to the hospital, people who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 have several resources, including:

  • The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing a phone line to answer questions from the public about COVID-19. Call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911 or email for answers in English and Spanish, Mandarin and more.
  • UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center offers Ask-A-Nurse, a 24/7 call line staffed by registered nurses who can assess symptoms and provide advice on seeking care. In Routt County, Ask-A-Nurse can be reached by calling 970-871-7878.
  • Virtual Visits can be done from the comfort of your home and only require a computer or tablet with a working webcam, speakers and microphone, or a smartphone.
  • If patients are experiencing severe symptoms or having difficulty breathing, they should visit the hospital’s emergency department.

Take precautions in everyday life:

  • Frequently and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you’re sick and keep your children home if they are sick.
  • Clean surfaces in your home and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.
  • Be calm but be prepared.
  • Employees at businesses and customers ​are required to wear a mask, according to a statewide public health order.
  • Limit distance between non-household members to 6 feet when indoors and outdoors.
  • The maximum group size for indoor activities is 10.

Then there are families like the Diehl-Winns who were shopping at Safeway. Equine veterinarian Courtney Diehl-Winn was wearing gloves as she shopped. She’s able to take the toilet paper crisis in stride because the family owns a bidet.

She called the toilet paper shortage a “self-fulfilling panic.”

“I don’t think there’s a shortage, but everyone thinks there’s a shortage, so we create a shortage,” Diehl-Winn said.

Long-time resident Ralph Rainwater, who has worked in retail for years, was a little less tolerant of how people were panicking about toilet paper.

“It’s gotten hysterical,” Rainwater said. “I don’t understand it with an educated town like this.”

So far, the big players, like Safeway and City Market, are limiting the number of toilet paper and sanitizing goods people can buy, but Walmart hasn’t followed suit. And so far, the smaller Natural Grocers in Steamboat isn’t limiting products either.

As for the Select Super Market in Oak Creek, managers there said they haven’t had to put limits on their shoppers, who they describe as being “moderate” in how they buy their toilet paper.

And then there are second homeowners like Safeway shopper Jenny Strimling who travels back and forth from Chicago. She had the wherewithal to phone ahead.

“I knew we had a toilet paper problem at home, so I called a friend here, and she said ‘no toilet paper,’ so I brought my own,” Strimling said.

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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