Take COVID-19 Seriously, But No Need to Panic (Subtitle: Step Away From the Toilet Paper!)
The novel Coronavirus 2019, or "COVID-19", is no joke. The science is clear that it is an extremely viral infection, with a fatality rate ten to twenty times that of the common flu. And it is right that so many of us are taking it seriously. The greatest threat from this pandemic is not to your life -- as so many point out "only" a small percentage actually die from it. The greatest threat it poses is consumption of an unimaginably large share of our health care resources, thinning out the supply of hospital beds and care givers needed for a multitude of other illnesses and accidents. If Pennsylvania continues to see the rate of expansion of the infection that we have seen in the first seven days since our first case, that would mean over 12,000 infections by April 1st. That is why the Governor has taken such drastic steps to "flatten the curve", as the experts like to say -- or, more simply, to slow the rate of growth. That will give our health care system time to keep up with the demand. We know it is a natural impulse when we see and read all about this serious, growing threat, everywhere, all the time, to want to do something to protect your family. We revert to the natural disaster response of gathering up the basic necessities for a week's worth of lock down. But, this is a different kind of national emergency.
As serious a concern as it should be, please keep in mind what COVID-19 WILL NOT do. COVID-19 will not shut off the power. COVID-19 will not shut off water and sewer. COVID-19 will not block off highways. COVID-19 won't even stop the internet or cable TV (if only), and COVID-19 will not interfere with your supply of toilet paper. Yesterday, according to Wikipedia (yes, we know, a little dubious, but for today's purposes, it will do), the United States manufactured (or imported) approximately TWENTY MILLION (20,000,000) rolls of toilet paper. And the day before that? Another 20,000,000. And today and tomorrow? Yup. 20,000,000 both days, and another 20,000,000 each and every day of the year, including Christmas and Halloween, adding up to an annual production of Seven Billion rolls every year. COVID-19 may be a little scary, but it doesn't stand a chance against the great toilet paper conglomerate. Or water. Or milk, eggs, bread, butter, chicken, or beef producers. A pandemic is not a snowstorm (kids, ask your parents about what snowstorms were). It is good to be prepared and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency does suggest putting together emergency stores in the event of a viral pandemic. But what they suggest is not to empty Mount Pocono's five grocery stores of paper goods and hand sanitizer (you don't need that either). No, they recommend that we stock up on three (3) days worth of medicines, household goods, and food. Three days supply. That's it. Just enough to cover one long weekend. Because pandemics don't cut off the supply chain, they just cause occasional blips.
The average American uses about 3/5th of a roll in 3 days. (Okay, double that if you have teenagers. Triple for cats.) Four people in the crib? Three rolls and you're good. Folks, you are not going to run out of toilet paper in a pandemic. What we need in a pandemic is not toilet paper. We need patience. And selflessness, and some looking out for neighbors. Keep your "social distance", wash your hands (using normal soap and warm water, sanitizer doesn't do anything more for you). Stay at home, avoid large crowds, only shop when necessary, only for necessities, and check on your elderly and infirm neighbors (by phone or email, preferably). Most of all, don't horde the damn toilet paper. There's a cat lady on the block who is really gonna need that 24-roll pack! We know this is a stressful time, and all of our lives are being disrupted. But. seriously, let's all back off the panic buying. It isn't necessary. The grocery stores aren't going anywhere.