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Delta variant prompts limits on some goods — like toilet paper (again)

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 9:03 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 25, 2021 at 10:45 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Costco is known as a place where customers buy family-sized quantities at a low price. But limits are being placed on certain items.

The big-box retailer announced that it is limiting the amount of toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies you can buy, yet again, thanks to nationwide delivery delays.

“I remember when COVID started, you know, people were hoarding and there was nothing left on the shelves, so I don’t mind the limit,” said shopper Anna Wilson, as she loaded up her car with her groceries — along with one pack of toilet paper and one pack of paper towels that she said she was picking up for friends.

“Containers are all in the wrong place, the ships are all in the wrong place, and after the initial shutdown, it’s taken more than a year for supply chains to get back into the old flow,” said Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economics.

It’s even hit mom-and-pops, like Itchy Butt on Keeaumoku Street, where the sign on the takeout counter explains why they’ve temporarily raised their prices. The eatery said the costs of meats and restaurant supplies have gone up, and there are also shipping issues.

Economists say you can trace it all back to the delta variant and the summer case surge that led to more layoffs, just as federal unemployment benefits were ending.

“This is just COVID basically wreaking havoc through a whole variety of channels, through factories being shut down because of outbreaks, ports being shut down, not having enough truckers to be able to move containers out of Long Beach (California), everything slowing down,” said Carl Bonham of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

While major ports on the mainland have been impacted, Matson and Pasha both said that their ships are still arriving on schedule in Honolulu.

“Service continues uninterrupted and volumes remain steady,” a spokesman for Matson said in an email.

Shoppers like Wilson are understanding of the situation.

“If the supply is short, then the limit is good, so not everybody just hoards it.”

But the fallout is also extending to the broader economy.

After Hawaii’s hotels hit 80% occupancy in early July, they’ve now fallen to about 45%, leaving the beaches at Waikiki less crowded lately.

The newest forecast from UHERO now calls for Hawaii’s economy to start picking up sometime next year. But Brewbaker says a more immediate concern for many is a certain holiday, just 92 days away, that could still be affected by worldwide shipping delays.

“You might want to think about doing your Christmas shopping early because some of those items aren’t going to make it here in time,” he said.

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