An indelible image in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic is empty store shelves where toilet paper and disinfecting products are usually stocked.

In preparation for the pandemic that caused Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue a “shelter in place” order, shoppers are snagging every last roll of toilet paper off the shelves.

As a result, supplies are short across the country, according to The New York Times.

In a March 17 Octagon poll of 65 students, 68% said they saw toilet paper out of stock in stores, and 45% said the same of hand sanitizer.

Spokespersons at major retailers, such as Costco and CVS, said toilet paper hasn’t been out of stock for more than a couple days or, sometimes, hours. 

In fact, some McDonald’s locations have closed their bathrooms to prevent customers from stealing toilet paper. In response, McDonald’s chief supply chain officer, Marion Gross, ordered stores to keep their bathrooms open as required by law. 

While shopping at Costco in early March, junior Avi Krishna noticed toilet paper and hand sanitizer were out of stock.

During the early stages of the virus’s spread in the U.S., Krishna had already seen people stocking up on supplies. 

“At first, I thought these people were just hoarders,” Krishna said. “But now, I feel like what was once seemingly irrational has become a reality for Americans.”

Along with buying food in bulk, disinfecting surfaces is a common precaution during the quarantine.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cleaning frequently touched surfaces with soap and water helps prevent the spread of the virus.

While following these guidelines, senior Rebecca Waterson eventually ran out of paper towels.

“Those two days where we didn’t have paper towels were eye-opening for us,” Waterson said. “The experience made me think about what reality would be like if we ran out of more essential supplies.”

When senior Larkin Barnard-Bahn went to CVS on March 15, she found that many items, such as toilet paper and sanitizers, were either rationed or out of stock. (Photo by Barnard-Bahn)

In the March 17 Octagon poll, 46.6% of students said they have bought large amounts of food or supplies due to the spread of COVID-19.

For example, freshman Shakzoda Khodjakonova bought over 30 bottles of hand sanitizer from Bath and Body Works.

“It’s essential for us to always have hand sanitizer nearby,” Khodjakonova said. “We use it after touching store surfaces and when we leave.” 

This rush of customers causes stores either to ration products or raise prices.

While senior Garrett Shonkwiler said rationing allows supplies to reach more households, he deemed this inconvenient compared to price gouging.

Ironically, Shonkwiler said he recently learned about price gouging in his AP microeconomics class.

Through price gouging, companies are incentivized to provide more hand sanitizer, according to Shonkwiler. 

At the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, toilet paper rolls are limited to two per customer. (Photo by Emma Boersma)

According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s website, the state “prohibits raising the price of many consumer goods and services by more than 10% after an emergency has been declared. Local laws also may contain their own prohibitions on price gouging.”

These days, shopping comes with many precautions. Keeping distance from other shoppers and avoiding contact with surfaces are methods to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the American Red Cross.

To help “flatten the curve,” freshman Grace Zhao and her family do all their shopping online.

According to the CDC, flattening the curve refers to community isolation measures that keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers. 

“My family decided to shop online after hearing about social distancing,” Zhao said. “We want to do our role in ending this pandemic.”

According to Johns Hopkins University’s infectious disease department, social distancing means to increase the space between people to avoid spreading illness. 

With millions of people self-quarantining at home, the problem of where to shop rises. The sudden surge in people shopping online has led to essential items being out of stock, according to Zhao.

“While shopping online, (my family and I) saw essential household and disinfecting products such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer out of stock,” Zhao said.

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