In a case of coronavirus craziness, police in Newport, Ore., had to remind local residents that they should not call 9-1-1 if they ran out of toilet paper. “History offers many other options for you in your time of need if you cannot find a roll of your favorite soft, ultra plush two-ply citrus scented tissue,” the Newport Police Department noted in a recent Facebook post. After suggesting a number of alternatives (i.e. grocery receipts, magazine pages, leaves) they added, “There is a TP shortage. This too shall pass. Just don’t call 9-1-1. We cannot bring you toilet paper.”
The only reason there’s a TP shortage in Newport is because people are buying way more than they need and hoarding the stuff as some sort of talisman against the coronavirus. This is happening despite the fact that many, many people have pointed out that COVID-19 is a respiratory, not a gastrointestinal disease, so hoarding toilet paper is irrational. But panicked people often do irrational things.
The worst of the hoarders are trying to profit off other people’s fear. For example, two brothers outside of Chattanooga, Tenn., bought 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer in hopes of selling them for up to $70 each on Amazon. Fortunately, the tech company shut their greedy scheme down and the Tennessee attorney general’s office is currently investigating them for price gouging. But thanks to these two knuckleheads, many people who needed the disinfectant supplies couldn’t get them.
And public health officials are practically begging people not to hoard N-95 respirator masks that are needed by medical personnel on the front lines of the pandemic.
Hoarding causes shortages for people who weren’t as quick to grab every available roll of toilet paper, bottle of Purell, or tub of disinfectant wipes whether they actually needed them or not.
“You don’t have to buy so much,” President Trump said at a press conference on Sunday after conferring with the leaders of two dozen retail and grocery chains. “Take it easy. Relax.” A White House spokesman followed up by saying that “supply chains in the United States are strong, and it is unnecessary for the American public to hoard daily essentials.”
Stocking up on a week or two of emergency supplies in order to reduce the number of trips you have to make to the grocery store, or to have on hand just in case a mandatory quarantine is declared, is one thing. Selfishly buying much more than you need and hoarding more than you can reasonably use is quite another.
Hoarding will not help halt the spread of the virus. In fact, it’s more likely to have the opposite effect. People who can’t buy disinfectant wipes because somebody else cleaned out the shelves will be less likely to wipe down surfaces that harbor germs. Without hand sanitizer available, people might not be able to clean their hands as often after touching those surfaces, and unknowingly spread the coronavirus to others. And do you really want to live in a community where TP is unavailable, even temporarily?
Along with social distancing, disinfecting surfaces and hands is a major component of the current strategy to reduce and hopefully stop further transmission of the deadly coronavirus. But it only works if everybody around you is also doing the same thing. Even from a selfish point of view, hoarding doesn’t make much sense, because you’re much less likely to get sick if the people around you stay healthy.