Here’s why ‘stocking up’ for Coronavirus is a problem

I went to Target recently because we were low on toilet paper – and if you know anything about our family, you know that’s a real problem in our house. 

The shelves were almost bare.

Today, I checked online because I was curious – zero hand sanitizer available via Target.com. Out of stock on Amazon. Clorox wipes: We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock. 

For the love of God, people. Calm yourselves

I know the news about Coronavirus sounds scary. It’s new and unfamiliar and people have died. I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t protect themselves or their families. Please do everything you can to keep yourselves healthy (you can find advice on that from the CDC here). 

But a stockpile of toilet paper won’t wipe out COVID-19. And a bunch of people hoarding hand sanitizer and isolation masks can be a real problem for the vulnerable among us. 

No product has an infinite supply that instantly repopulates based on demand. When Hurricane Maria hit production facilities in Puerto Rico that were responsible for most of the U.S supply of IV bags, there was a shortage. Hospitals and home health patients alike had a hard time getting the supplies they needed. When it became trendy among the rich and famous to use IV infusions as a hangover cure, hospitals had to ration IV vitamins for fragile patients in danger of malnutrition – including premature infants. When healthy people buy up (or steal) isolation masks because they’re afraid of being exposed to germs, hospitals may not have enough to protect people who are actually exposed to life-threatening diseases on a daily basis, and people with weakened immune systems may go without. 

We all learned this in elementary economics: if enough people over-buy something, it runs out. And before long, the people who need that thing most will not be able to get it. 

Yes, you need soap and Clorox wipes (were you not already buying those things before?). But you know who really needs antibacterial soap and disinfectants and isolation masks? The man who’s halfway through chemo. The mom who has to perform sterile dressing changes on her toddler on her dining room table. The child who has an autoimmune disease. The nurse who can’t keep caring for her patients if she comes down with the flu herself. The surgeon who’s about to operate on your grandma. 

By all means, buy what you need. Clean your hands and clean your houses. It will help keep us all healthier.

But don’t buy more than you need. If you wouldn’t buy it to prepare for a typical flu season, don’t buy it to “prepare” for COVID-19. Because right now, the panic is far more of a problem than the virus.

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