My daughter has a softball game today and it’s my turn to bring the meal. So, I decided to head over to Costco this morning as soon as it opened to pick up sandwiches, drinks and dessert. I decided to go there that early because when I visited for regular shopping just a few days ago, the pallets of toilet paper were completely gone and the pallets of water and paper towels were on their way to disappearing.
It seemed obvious that coronavirus/COVID-19 has spooked people to the point of feeling an urgency to stock up on supplies…even though I might put food a bit higher on the survival list than toilet paper.
Even though on that day, I was there around noon so the store had only been open for two hours and was already bereft of two-ply, I resolved that I’d beat the hoarders and get there today just minutes after it opened.
What met me at first when I arrived was the curiosity that every parking space was already filled up, a growing number of cars were orbiting the massive lot, waiting for a space to open up. Had I made a mistake on what time Costco opens? Did it open at 9:00am and not 10:00am?
When I had finally parked and approached the entrance, I saw a very long line of people snaked out into the parking lot…people waiting to get into Costco. I checked the sign at the entrance and it did indeed display that they had opened just ten minutes before I arrived, at 10:00am.
This was already disconcerting. The traffic inside the store was remarkable, so many people with carts squeezing past each other, looking more purposeful than worried.
I came upon a long line of people at the back of the store which was curious though once I passed them to see there were no pallets of toilet paper where they always are, and few pallets of water and toilet paper, it became clear. This line, which circled around the water/paper goods section of the store, was the one I had come upon down the aisle. The slow-moving, incredibly long and circular line led to the warehouse doorway where workers were loading up one shopper’s cart at a time with the amount of water, toilet paper and paper towels they wanted.
I remarked on what was going on to a Costco employee who was directing shopper traffic, he was in disbelief and guessed that many people had just heard of the threat of COVID-19 but didn’t really follow the news as to the details. So…they were simply panic shopping.
The irony here is that, in order to prepare for the possible armageddon that Coronavirus will bring, where toilet paper will be used as money and the person with the most water bottles shall rule them all, this mass of people were all bustling together, sharing each other’s air and potentially, viruses. There were shoppers who were wearing masks but some were the surgical type masks that offer little protection anyway, they were the ones with the more panicky, squinty eyes…no doubt scanning the crowd to figure out who might infect them.
Additionally, instead of there being multiple lines to check out with the cashiers, there was such a mass of people there, a long line had formed on either side of the store in which shoppers were forced to wait in order to get to a cashier. I would estimate that the wait for those at the end of the barely moving line would be around two hours (just like voting in L.A.!).
From my research, that is, visiting this Costco twice in a span of three days, I witnessed an exponential increase in panic buying. And it seems intuitive that this is probably surging like this in many parts of the country, even if it is partially below the radar so far.
To give you a sense of what was going on today, here is video I shot of one of the long lines running to the back of Costco (literally, the length of a warehouse) that shoppers were waiting in to be able to check out. Please note the following items that appear in nearly every cart and sometimes, in multiple amounts: Water bottles, toilet paper, paper towels, bleach, etc. Also note how few food items or other types of items appear in carts.
I discovered other folks who were doing what I was doing, putting back the items in our carts to leave this madness.
I had also stopped in at my local supermarket earlier in the week after finding the topilet paper at Costco had all been snapped up and while I had no problem purchasing toilet paper there, the shelves were a bit barren. I returned today to buy the treats for the softball game and found both the toilet paper and water sections stripped down to nearly empty:
When it comes to water and toilet paper, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Fear is a multiplier, the more it’s widely accepted, the more it grows. While there seems to be no connection right now between Coronavirus and running out of Charmin, that connection has been made out of fear and ignorance. And now, the legit fear of not being able to buy the basics because of others’ panic-buying, is justified and multiplies all other fears.
I was very concerned that Trump’s demented attempt to play down the threat of Coronavirus would be believed by many people. It’s important for people to recognize the reality of this pandemic so they can take steps to protect themselves and everyone else. However, it now looks like it’s swung the other way and panic is growing among the public, especially the low information folks who just hear that a killer virus is coming and people are going to be quarantined.
It wouldn’t be misguided to assume that as the testing finally becomes more widespread and the cases of Coronavirus multiply, the current panic could only get worse. So, it becomes incumbent on the media and all Americans to help inform others about the reality of Coronavirus, the realistic threat and treatment and do what we can to mitigate this wildly growing panic before it becomes more destructive.