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Coronavirus and Retail Injury Threat to Nevadans

Human Stampede

Earlier this year, Nevadans were stunned as they witnessed the emergence of a new and unique viral threat. Originating in the Wuhan region of China, the coronavirus was likely transmitted from another species, such as a bird or bat. Scientists are unclear as to the mode of transmission. [1] What is clear is that once the virus found a human host, it was able to quickly spread among the local population. What is also clear is that the coronavirus could become a source of retail injuries.

Current State of the Coronavirus in the World

Today, the virus is a global phenomenon, with cases on all six populated continents. As of March 11th, there were 125,616 cases and 4,605 deaths form the virus reported globally.  The following countries with the most serious outbreaks reported these numbers: China with 80,790, confirmed cases, Italy (12,462 confirmed cases), Iran (9,000) confirmed cases), South Korea (7,755 confirmed cases). There are also a significant number of confirmed cases in Germany, France, Spain and the United States (1,109 confirmed cases). [2] As of March 10th there were four confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state of Nevada: two in Clark County, and two in Washoe County. [3]

As the outbreak continues to intensify, government officials are struggling to respond quickly and effectively. The Trump Administration has been criticized by some for downplaying the severity of the pandemic while simultaneously authorizing an $8 billion aid package to combat the disease and slow its spread. [4] In Washington state, where the outbreak is particularly severe, universities and public schools are closing their doors for the next several weeks. [5] As Nevada experiences the beginning of its coronavirus crisis, the University Medical Center hosted a coronavirus education and collaboration forum last week in order to promote exchange of information among Las Vegas hospitals. [6]

Individuals across the country are preparing for possible quarantines by stocking up on necessities such as food, water, and toiletries. Others have begun purchasing – or, in some cases, hording – essential items such as hand sanitizer and bleach wipes. This sort of preparedness is wise when done in a calm and reasonable manner, but when panic ensues, shoppers are putting themselves at risk of retail injuries that can be serious or even deadly.

Store Stampedes

While most shopping trips proceed without incident, too many shoppers in the same place, vying for the same items, can be a potentially dangerous situation. In the case of the coronavirus, we have seen shoppers heading to local stores to stock up on home essentials and hygiene items to prevent disease transmission. Two dangers in a shopping situation such as this are a stampede (many people moving in the same direction) and a crush (a stampede where crowd density increases to the point where injuries are likely). Some researchers prefer to refer to the human stampede (which implies animalistic behavior) as a “progressive crowd collapse.” This begins at a density of six or seven persons per square meter. At this density, people are unable to move on their own and become part of the crowd. Movements of crowds at this density are sometimes likened to those of a fluid or wave. Once one person falls, others may fall to fill the void, creating a possibility that they will fall below the crowd and be trampled. Others may be packed in so densely that they are unable to breathe. [7] All of this can result in retail injuries.

Stampedes can be largely prevented by using effective crowd management strategies. Barriers and other traffic-control mechanisms can reduce the likelihood of a stampede situation. Police or organizers with loudspeakers can also help by providing vocal feedback to the crowd and directing traffic to prevent crushes. If you are in a crowded shopping situation, watch out for warning signs of an impending stampede. If you feel yourself being touched on all four sides, you may want to move away from other people so that you have some autonomy of movement. A stampede is in progress when you can feel shock waves travelling through the crowd caused by people at the back of the group pushing forward. [8]

If you feel a need to stock up on essential items during the coronavirus outbreak, consider the following strategies to avoid shopping stampede and possible crush scenarios:

  • Order a few items online to avoid high density shopping experiences. Online retailers offer a variety of items from foods to hand sanitizer to latex gloves.
  • Consider shopping early in the morning or late at night when fewer shoppers are likely to be in the stores with you.
  • Follow posted directions and rules while shopping in local stores. Never move against posted traffic signs or buy more of an item than you are allowed to take.
  • Avoid any stores that seem overly crowded. This will both reduce your chance of being caught in a shopping stampede and reduce the likelihood of you being exposed to the coronavirus.
  • Don’t buy more than you need. Part of the shopping panic surrounding the coronavirus outbreak stems from some consumers buying up all the necessary items at local stores, leaving others scrambling to find bleach wipes and tissues.

Above all else, keep your cool and calmly follow the advice of local health officials. The only thing worse than exposure to coronavirus is needlessly pairing it with an increased risk of retail injuries.

[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/where-did-new-coronavirus-come-past-outbreaks-provide-hints-n1144521

[2]  https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html

[4] https://www.npr.org/2020/03/06/812825943/trump-signs-coronavirus-funding-bill-cancels-trip-to-cdc

[5] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/university-of-washington-coronavirus-remote-classes_n_5e6282a5c5b691b525f21429

[6] https://www.ktnv.com/news/nevada-health-officials-collaborate-on-coronavirus-response

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stampede

[8] Ibid.

Benson and Bingham