I spotted the hand-written sign as I walked into the CVS: “Customers limited to one package of toilet paper.” I knew then that we were in for a rough ride.
I do the family grocery shopping. When I went out last Friday, I wasn’t prepared for the level of pillaging I’d see. At the crowded CVS, people were stocking up on over-the-counter medications and grabbing TP and miscellaneous grocery items. At the register, a small sign advised that the store had sold out of hand sanitizer.
When I arrived at Safeway, things were really jumping. People streamed out the door with shopping carts stacked high with toilet paper, paper towels, water bottles, and menu staples common to most family meals. Inside the store, controlled chaos reigned. I saw the longest lines at cash registers I’ve ever witnessed, and staff was doing its best to restock barren shelves. In paper goods, there were still some packages of TP left, but only one of our usual brand. I grabbed it. The meat department had really been picked over. Except for some prepared patties, there was no raw hamburger. All Perdue chicken had vanished, and sparse packages of the store brand lay in lonely isolation.
A man passed me with three cases of bottled water in his cart. I guess I don’t understand the water buying frenzy. Is our water supply also threatened by COVID-19? Are wells supposed to dry up or become unsafe? I don’t think so.
The COVID-19 scare affords us another opportunity to observe the predictable, real-life behaviors of the human animal. The powerful emotion of fear and natural instincts for self-preservation and protecting family are proving mightily strong, but is hoarding hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and bottled water appropriate behavior toward others? I think not.
The current contagion crisis is full of dangers we certainly need to take seriously, as well as opportunities to seize. Despite the uncertain health risks, the indefinite length of the siege, and the big dents in our 401Ks, we all need to settle down and consider a few key pieces of advice:
Obey the guidelines established by the governor and federal government about gathering in groups bigger than 10 and when you meet others practice social distancing. If you are over 60, do your family and friends a favor and stay home to stay safe.
Remember the Golden Rule. When you hoard things, you are depriving others of something their families really need. You will feel very foolish and selfish when all of this is over, and you still have a dozen bottles of hand sanitizer.
Practice neighborliness and charity. If you know of anyone who is elderly and already isolated and alone, check in on them by phone, and do so more than once. If they have immediate needs like groceries, meals, or prescriptions, try to help.
Rely on the often-maligned mainstream media, including this newspaper, as well as state and local government officials for dependable facts about the pandemic. These sources have consistently gotten the story right while we’ve received mixed and even erroneous messages from our top national leadership.
Stay away from social media sources, internet sites, and seemingly valid texts offering the “latest” information or conspiracy theories. These media are often polluted by Russian bot misinformation designed to frighten and divide us further. The forwarded message you receive from a friend in Sykesville may have originated in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Combat racism in all its forms. Though the virus may have begun in China, that doesn’t mean that every Asian-American you meet is somehow complicit.
Support in any way you can those most impacted by the cancellations and quarantines — hourly workers like retail and wait staff, the homeless, the unemployed, and the uninsured. Then file this memory away for the next time someone tries to tell you that national health insurance is unnecessary and tantamount to socialism.
These are anxious times but allowing your level of anxiety to rise to the breaking point doesn’t help anyone, including yourself. If watching or listening to the news or talk shows causes you to hyperventilate or lose sleep, download a movie or non-harrowing book. Comedies and humorous writing will help us get through this.
Pray, meditate, or think spiritual thoughts, even if you are unaccustomed to doing so. COVID-19 may do a great amount of damage, but it is also a reminder of both our fragility and our inescapable connectedness to each other and people around the world. This pestilence may also offer a rare and unsought opportunity for healing our fractured nation and our fretful selves.
Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at email@example.com.