There have been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Kern County as of Thursday, but that hasn't stopped local residents from changing some of their hygiene habits and preparing for the worst.
People on social media have been sharing photos of empty pharmacy and store aisles that used to be full of hand sanitizer, soap and other products, and it didn't take long for the same to happen in Bakersfield.
Northeast Bakersfield Target customers were a bit disappointed Thursday when they couldn't find hand sanitizer in any size, nor rubbing alcohol to make it at home. The store's hand soap and disinfecting wipes selection also seemed to be selling in high volumes.
"I'm trying to stay clean ... I'm just being very cautious," explained Target customer Joan Ryan as she was shopping for extra hand sanitizer Thursday, only to leave empty-handed.
Ming & H Drugs has had to turn those who are looking for face masks away because the store has been out of stock for weeks, according to pharmacist Pat Person.
As of Thursday, three Kern County residents continue to be tested for the coronavirus, or COVID-19, and four are being monitored for the disease, according to Kern County Public Health Services spokeswoman Michelle Corson. One test has come back negative, and 11 of 15 individuals have passed through the monitoring program successfully.
The virus has mainly impacted individuals over the age of 65 with compromised immune systems. Corson said Kern County remains in the low-risk category and there is no confirmed circulation of the coronavirus locally. There have been around 60 positive cases in California, according to the California Department of Public Health.
But many are not taking any chances, especially since Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Wednesday after a man died from the virus in Placer County.
Ryan said she came to Target the other day to buy hand sanitizer, but was beat by several shoppers who did the same before her. She had to settle for a travel-size bottle, which she carries in her purse. Additionally, she said she bought a box of sanitizing hand wipes online and bleach wipes. She's taking the outbreak seriously, since she's an elderly individual.
"I'm washing my hands more, trying to not touch my face ... and shopping carts scare me," she said, due to germs on handles. When a store did not have hand wipes available to clean the shopping cart handles, she decided to walk "around the store with everything in my hands."
Person said the drugstore has mainly seen an uptick in people wanting to buy masks. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that people who are healthy wear face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19. Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms to help prevent the spread of disease to others.
"There’s concern. Right now it hasn’t really hit too close to home, and not a lot of people are at that panic stage," Person said. "They realistically don’t need to be, but you hear different stories (about the outbreak) from all over the place."
Other residents aren't as concerned about the outbreak, mainly because they already practice the hygiene tips the CDC is recommending. Bridget Parks, another Target shopper Thursday, bought disinfecting wipes, which she already uses to wipe down various surfaces at home. As a restaurant employee, she frequently washes her hands at work, and she carries that habit into her home life, she said.
Individuals who already keep up good hygiene habits wonder why it takes an outbreak to get some people to focus on the importance of hand-washing and stopping the spread of germs. Bakersfield resident Penny Anderson uses baking soda and vinegar to clean surfaces and rubbing alcohol to disinfect them. She also makes her own hand sanitizer and always has wipes handy.
She's watching the outbreak closely, but overall she's not panicking. "Why should people only wash their hands when there's a pandemic going on? ... If they're good protocols, why not follow them all the time? Why not use common sense?"
The county public health department is meeting daily internally and is in regular contact with various health, education and other organizations. Testing criteria have been expanded to test a wider group of patients. But overall, Corson reiterated, people should go about their daily lives.
"We need to be alert, we need to be aware, we do not want another infectious disease in the United States," she said. "There's not a need to be fearful at this time."