The unseen consequences of coronavirus panic hoarding

Story by Noah Kuhn
Associate News Editor

Illustration by David Sohn
Associate Design Editor

Empty shelves. Lines around the block. Six feet of distance between individuals. Deserted public spaces. The coronavirus has completely upended life in Southern California in a wave of mass hysteria equally as dangerous as the disease itself. As Californians anticipate a complete lockdown like that of Italy, everyone is stocking up on paper goods, food, and cleaning supplies. 

That is, everyone who can afford it. Many affluent community members are taking all they can carry from nearby grocery stores, which increases the severity of the crisis for families in less stable economic positions. They cannot afford to buy in bulk and therefore struggle to purchase a basic amount of these same resources. Putting a stop to this senseless hoarding and yielding to underprivileged residents, just like social distancing and self-quarantine, is absolutely necessary in mitigating this unprecedented crisis.

Supermarkets and wholesale stores like Trader Joe’s, Ralphs, Costco, and Target are failing to match skyrocketing demands. USA Today described a Walmart in Gardena, California where “Bottled water sold out in 15 minutes. And by mid-morning, the store looked like a deserted warehouse, with no paper towels, no toilet paper, and no soap. Rice and beans were also hard to find.” Every day, shoppers who can afford to do so travel to several different stores and buy anywhere from weeks’ to even months’ worth of supplies, leaving shelves devoid of many products. Stores have tried to combat this vacuum with signs politely enacting limits on certain goods, though these quotas usually arrive when aisles are already barren. Affluent customers are consumed by their fear of a lockdown and feel the need to equip their homes with ample food and sanitary item reserves.

However, many small business owners or hourly workers with lower incomes cannot afford to do so. They do not have stable jobs that allow them to work at home or take paid time off, making them more economically vulnerable. When wealthier residents swipe necessary goods off grocery store shelves, financially disadvantaged families are unable to buy even a basic amount of those resources. Then, those shoppers must drive around to multiple stores in order to find food, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. Not only will that journey waste precious time and money when repeated on a daily or weekly basis, but it also risks the health of individuals during a time when traveling in public is discouraged.

The issue intensifies when considering that lower-income workers are also likely to be renters and live closer together, placing them at higher risk of becoming infected. If they do fall victim to the coronavirus, their medical insurance situation is likely more precarious than that of privileged hoarders, which makes the virus a greater threat for them. 

Everyone’s lives are being compromised by the coronavirus, yet it is important to consider one’s level of privilege before acting on panic. Wealthier people need to understand the economic implications of their impulsive stockpiling on lower-income community members. Also, Americans must empathize and cooperate with each other to realize that hoarding is detrimental to public safety. Before filling a shopping cart full of groceries for the third time, take some time to think about less fortunate people who might desperately need those resources.

One Reply to “The unseen consequences of coronavirus panic hoarding”

  1. D

    Incredibly accurate. Fantastic insight. Another thing many of those low-income individuals rely on public transportation making the quest for basic needs even more challenging and further exposure to the possibility of becoming ill from the virus, some of whom are seniors or disabled.

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