As we surpass the second month of the crippling coronavirus pandemic in America, you’d think shoppers wouldn’t be still lining up at grocery stores just to buy toilet paper — but they are.
On March 10, Business Insider (BI) reported: “The spread of the coronavirus has brought with it panic-buying of food and household essentials, despite the attempts of governments to discourage stockpiling, people have had a seemingly insatiable desire to stockpile — even though manufacturers say there is no shortage.”
“What's the reason for the run, especially when toilet paper isn't known to have any virus-blocking properties?” FOX Business reporter DeArbea Walker asked.
Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and author of "The Psychology of Pandemics," COVID-19 has scared many Americans because there is little information — and there isn't a vaccine yet. “When people hear conflicting messages about the risk, it affects how they cope and how they prepare.”
Taylor believes social media has heightened the tension, as have visits to stores where other shoppers are stockpiling with abandon.
"People, being social creatures, we look to each other for cues for what is safe and what is dangerous," he told CNN. "And when you see someone in the store panic-buying, that can cause a fear-contagion effect."
"People become anxious ahead of the actual infection," Taylor concluded. "They haven't thought about the bigger picture, like what are the consequences of stockpiling toilet paper."
President Trump has warned against hoarding and asked Americans to buy what they need. That gives supplies an opportunity to catch up with buying.
The President pulled together federal, state and local government leaders, health care authorities and private business leaders to “flatten the curve” on COVID-19 pandemic, find vaccines and faster tests, and to put America back to work again.
With more than 22 million Americans drawing unemployment checks, a shot of cash from the IRS and passage of federal stimulus programs nearing $2.5 trillion, the toilet paper shortage is just the tip of the iceberg of the havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The iceberg is economic paralysis and our stretched health care system.
For example, restaurant closures dried up demand for fresh oysters. In Shelton, Taylor Shellfish, the premier supplier of fresh oysters, had its market disappear overnight. Now it is attempting to sell oysters directly to consumers to recoup some of its lost sales and re-employ its workers.
As the world economy dips toward recession, hopefully international markets won’t collapse for Washington cherries and apples, especially for the new Cosmic Crisp.
Clawing our way back to prosperity will take time. It is like a long and heavy freight train climbing Stevens Pass rather than a rocket launching a satellite into space. Finding ways to safely open hair salons, small shops and offices without triggering a second COVID-19 tsunami takes careful planning, coordination and implementation — but it must happen as soon as possible.
The bottom line is just as American ingenuity gave us the Cosmic Crisp, American ingenuity can lead us out of economic doldrums. Taxpayers can’t afford additional trillion dollar stimulus packages. Our nation needs people safely back at work earning wages to pay for groceries, rent and utilities.
While the President and Congress acted quickly to help stop the hemorrhaging, the ultimate solution is to restore American jobs, avoid another outbreak of COVID-19 and rebuild markets for our products. That way we can bring back our vibrant economy.
The coronavirus pandemic is of the magnitude we have not seen in a century. The shortage of rolls of toilet paper, while iconic, is just the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper problem.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.