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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Good neighbors don’t buy more than they need

The hoarding of groceries and other products, such as toilet paper, has become an unnecessary problem. And it’s up to all of us during the COVID-19 pandemic to use common sense and unselfishness.

The nation’s irrational rush to overbuy supplies, both necessary and ludicrously unnecessary, has emptied shelves in groceries and other stores throughout the country, prompting President Trump on Sunday to urge people to stop hoarding. “You don’t have to buy so much,” Trump said at a news conference. “Take it easy. Just relax.”

The president insisted there are “no shortages” of products, but people are “buying three-to-five times what they normally buy.”

There is nothing wrong with stockpiling supplies since many Americans are facing an extended period of time at home. But experts say anything beyond having a two-weeks supply of necessities is excessive. Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House COVID-19 task force, said people should only buy what they need for the coming week.

A USA Today story said empty shelves in our stores is a self-fulfilling prophecy: “People panic buy toilet paper, leading people to think there’s a long-term shortage, leading to more panic buying.”

News stories and the ensuing hysteria generated through social media have fueled the panic.

“Social media has made this pandemic different from other ones in that all these dramatic images of empty shelves and shopping carts spread planetwide in a matter of moments, and that can inflate people’s sense of threat,” said Steven Taylor, a professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in a story in the Seattle Times this week (the Centers for Disease Control announced on Jan. 21 that the first case of COVID-19 appeared in Washington State).

ABC News pointed to a study by the research firm Nielsen, which drew parallels between major news stories and a spike in buying certain products. For example, the sale of medical supplies and rubbing alcohol surged nearly 20% with the first reported case of the coronavirus in the U.S. in January. Then sales jumped 65 to 85% after the first reported person-to-person transmission of the disease on Feb. 29. Powdered milk sales also jumped 85%, and rice and bean sales increased 25-37%.

The ABC story quoted Michal Strahilevitz, an online shopper and marketing professor from St. Mary’s College, said “I think when something becomes scarce, everybody wants more of it because they’re afraid next time there won’t be any toilet paper at all.”

Major grocery stores have assured the White House that there’s enough for everyone and are urging consumers not to hoard anything at this time.

Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain, said it is working with suppliers to more quickly replenish scarce items.

“We activated our preparedness plan several weeks ago, and we continue to monitor the rapidly evolving situation,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said in a statement, noting that the company has been limiting purchases of certain medicines and cleaners since the beginning of March.

The fact is, many U.S. citizens don’t keep enough supplies ahead in the first place as recommended by the federal government, such as making sure to have enough food, water and other supplies on hand to last at least 72 hours in case of any potential disaster.

USA Today reported that anything more than a two-week supply of food, cleaning supplies, medicine and other goods is probably hoarding. “At best, it’s annoying to have to search multiple stores for basic necessities. At worst, it can hurt vulnerable people who don’t have the luxury of shopping around.”

For a list of what you should have in your two-week stockpile, go to https://www.ready.gov/kit ) or

https://www.ready.gov/pandemic. Then, please, be a good neighbor and don’t buy more than you need.

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