EDITORIAL: Stockpiled

People should resist desire to hoard domestic supplies

It appears that the worst is over with regard to store supplies — most people surely hope it is. Store shelves aren’t as full as they once were and some items continue to run out quickly, but more people are finding it easier to get toilet paper, water and other necessities.

Let’s hope the improvement continues, and the angst that caused it subsides.

Widespread panic over the coronavirus led many people to buy up all the toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other items they could find. Some did it out of fear, others panicked upon seeing those who filled their baskets with toilet paper, and decided they’d better do the same. Some people tried to prey on that fear by buying up all the basic items could and then start selling them at inflated prices to people whose anxiety was compounded by the sight of empty store shelves. Before long the panic buying overwhelmed retailers, who didn’t expect the run on basic goods and normally don’t have supplies for more than a few normal days of sales.

To offset the panic buying, stores shortened operating hours, started controlling the flow of shoppers and imposed limits on the goods that were selling out the fastest. Social networks shut down many people who tried to use their forums to profit from the panic.

The various steps, coupled with the increased output from suppliers and manufacturers has enabled more people to find what they need, now seem to be working.

Perhaps the hoarding of supplies helped some people ease their fears by allowing them to feel that they at least were doing something. But the hoarding never was necessary, and it only worsened the situations that health and government officials were trying to avoid.

Stockpiling created a self-fulfilling situation, forcing those to hadn’t hoarded to spend more time out in the streets, going from store to store and waiting in lines looking for the items that had been gobbled up. Having to spend significant parts of their day out on such searches, even if they’d rather be safe at home, forced them to endure otherwise unnecessary exposure to other people, any one of whom might be carrying COVID-19 or any other illness. Store workers who have had to deal with the long lines of desperate shoppers were especially exposed to unnecessary risk.

Coronavirus isn’t the only threat right now, as most doctors have stopped taking walk-ins and new patients, and are interacting with their existing patients as much as they can by phone or via internet-based video link.

This makes it harder for anyone to see a doctor in his office for a nonemergency illness, and raises the risk of inaccurate diagnosis that could make their problem worse. Some patients might opt to endure what they think is a simple cold or flu, allowing an infection to get worse because it wasn’t diagnosed and treated earlier.

We hope no one believes that having a larger cache of toilet paper is worth putting everyone else’s health at risk — especially since allowing the coronavirus or any other disease to spread more easily also increases the health risks to the hoarders themselves when they leave their own homes.

The coronavirus threat will subside, we all hope sooner rather than later. We all can help that happen by helping people avoid contact with others, and that is best done by buying only what we need and leaving some for the rest, so they don’t have to put their own health at risk just because they have to run all over town looking for a few rolls of toilet paper.