By Iamreallygoodatcheckers - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
You may be a hoarder, or it might be okay, depending on what you’re buying.
Buying 16 jumbo 32-packs of toilet paper is probably unnecessary. Buying 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer so you can resell them on Amazon is gouging (and it’s not going to work). Buying cases N95 respirator masks for your own use is stupid and terrible, because the hospitals that desperately need them won’t have them–and you just might end up in a hospital.
Buying a month’s worth of groceries is not a bad idea, if you can store them. Let me give you three reasons why you should go foraging through the grocery store (if you haven’t already) to find what you need.
But before that, let me share some good advice that we followed here at our home. Create two lists: essentials and nice-to-haves. Essentials is the consumable stuff you eat or use every day. Nice-to-haves are the sweets, condiments, and other items you don’t use daily but might miss when you don’t have them.
This is common sense, but not as cut and dried as you think. Because you’re going to be shopping for a month’s worth of stuff–or at least looking forward that far. So things like salty snacks, or non-perishables that the kids can snack on, might end up on the essentials list because you may be in the house with those kids for a while. Give the lists some serious thought.
When you shop, don’t come back with six gallons of ice cream or too much perishable or frozen foods you have no room to store. You might have to modify your menu for long-term social separation.
Now, the three reasons it’s not hoarding to go big shopping.
1. There will be shortages
This isn’t a “might be,” it’s a “will be.” It’s going to happen. Right now, the Coronavirus is multiplying in cases, mostly under the radar. But an outbreak–a large one–is inevitable. When it happens, that particular area, including factories, distribution centers, grocery stores, truck stops, and restaurants are going to be strained to remain open. I expect a number of shipments in and out may be cancelled.
This means if you are in one of the outbreak areas, or adjacent to it, you will have shortages of everyday items. I was at the grocery store just today and heard the checkout person comment on “if they shut us down.” Why would a Publix or a Kroger or any large chain store shut down? Store by store, know this: the companies have a plan to shut down any store compromised by an outbreak. They’ll do it in a heartbeat versus being liable for spreading the virus further.
Nationally, these outbreaks could degrade our ability to ship goods from place to place, or through large distribution centers. Supply chains are already experiencing significant stress due to curtailed imports from China and South Korea. Everything from the above-mentioned N95 masks (which China is hoarding), to packaging materials, to electronic components, is in short supply as the virus has done economic damage to our major suppliers.
If the food can’t be packaged, it can’t be sold. Better to have food now than need it later and be forced to buy from unreliable sources.
2. You may have to self-quarantine or care for someone who has the virus
This speaks for itself. If you show symptoms, you’re going to have to stay home. You can’t go to the grocery store. You can’t go to the gas station. You can’t go to your neighbor’s house. To the non-infected world, you are as good as a “walker” from “The Walking Dead.”
The self-quarantine period is 14 days. For that period, nobody is going to want to enter your home. I doubt Uber Eats or Grubhub want to deliver to COVID-19 central. They may do it, unwittingly, but that would make you a terrible person for not telling them. In any case, if there’s an outbreak in your area, those services probably will suspend (see point #1).
You may yourself not have the infection, but have to care for a loved one who does. This means you may as well have it. You’ll be quarantined. No going out–or very limited. You won’t be making daily grocery runs for fresh vegetables. You’ll have to make due with what you have, and what you can share.
You’ll be caring for a sick person who, depending on their age, weight, and overall health, may end up in needing a hospital. And you may have to drive them a long distance to find a hospital with room for them.
Oh–and by the way–that’s a reason to fill your gas tank, in every vehicle, right now. Make sure you have full tanks of gas and keep them topped off. You need to be able to make a long trip if you have to. Flexibility and contingency planning is the key.
One more thing: buy enough to share with your neighbors who may not have what they need. This is the time to be human. It’s not the time to hoard. Buy what you’ll need for the next month, and a little more to share. Your soul will thank you.
3. You’ll help flatten the curve.
“Flattening the curve” refers to the slope and peak of the number of infected/sick people from this pandemic. Since the U.S. is bound by two oceans and we’ve severely curtailed who can come in (a wise move), the best way to fight the virus overwhelming our hospital capacity in the next month is to stay where you are, and don’t associate with people outside the ones you live with.
This isn’t some doomsday overreaction. Without countermeasures, and “social distancing,” COVID-19 cases will double every day. The R0 (“R-naught”) has been established at somewhere between 2 and 3. This means for every infected person moving around, they can infect, let’s call it 2.3, people. It’s the doubling penny, which in just 30 days, a penny becomes $5,368,709.12. But note in 27 days, it’s just $671,088.64. For every day we “flatten the curve” of COVID-19’s natural spread, we can save thousands of lives.
The difference between an empty emergency room and an overwhelmed hospital might be 3 days of countermeasures, or everyone taking one fewer trip to the grocery store in the next three days, and the three days after that.
Ideally, if you could shop for a month right now and never go back, you’ll be doing your community a favor. If you could not eat out, not go to public events, not go to parties, and in general sit home with the people you love and enjoy their company for a month, this nation will have passed the peak of COVID-19 and health authorities will be able to get ahead of the virus through testing and treatment.
Buy, prepare, and stay home
It’s not hoarding if you’re planning to stay home and use the goods you’re buying. It’s okay to go to the store and buy seven cases of water (we did), more chicken than we eat in two weeks or more, beans, rice, cereal, vegetables, all of it.
It will keep you out of the grocery store, keep you out of the public, and keep you from getting–or giving–the virus. This is the way we flatten the curve and get through this crisis. If you think that’s doomsday overreacting, you’re going to get a very nasty surprise in about two weeks. This is one time when you should believe the data and act accordingly.
Go to the store and buy what you can (for a while there will be resupply so do it now). Go to the gas station and fill up. And get ready to hunker down. Don’t put it off. Do it now.