Stock up on household items: Is the CDC right about COVID-19?


Fact Box

  • In addition to toilet paper, hand sanitizer, aerosol disinfectants, oat milk, and fresh meat alternatives were among the most sought after purchases during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • One reason for consumer hoarding upsurges relates to commodity theory: the value of a given product increases in relation to its perceived availability. 
  • In order to enable the most vulnerable population to have better access to buying supplies, stores designated certain times of the day as senior shopping time.
  • On March 15, 2020, President Trump urged citizens to “not buy so much. There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential food supplies.”

Katherine (No)

By asking those with a higher risk of catching COVID-19 to stock up on household goods, the CDC risks depleting already limited supplies and contravening its own guidance that people should avoid unnecessary social gatherings. Panic buying has led to shortages of household goods, such as toilet paper and disinfectants. If the general public cannot find these goods in the stores they normally patronize, they will be forced to travel from store to store in search of them—increasing the risk that they will not only be exposed to but also spread the disease. 

Stockpiling increases the likelihood that, unable to purchase normal staples, people will indiscriminately purchase supplies they would not normally use. According to crisis management expert Regina Phelps, people do this to feel more secure. But stocking up on goods leaves fewer items on the shelves, meaning a smaller percentage of those who need essentials can procure them. The CDC's guidelines recommend avoiding crowds and non-essential travel, especially when it's known that there is an outbreak in your local community. But this becomes difficult when store shelves become empty, forcing consumers to hunt for their daily necessities. 

Some local health officials have contravened the CDC's guidelines on stockpiling because of these effects. The Buck County Health Department director in Pennsylvania has advised that 'people should buy the things they normally buy, because otherwise it causes a domino effect that then leads to more stockpiling.' Hence the purchase limits that stores have implemented on in-demand goods to ensure all their customers' needs are met in one shopping trip and exposure risks are limited. 

Adam (Yes)

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has now been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). With that announcement, US Federal agencies are now advising citizens to prepare for a number of lifestyle changes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising that Americans who are at the highest risk—specifically older adults or people with underlying health conditions—to make sure that they have access to several weeks of medication and supplies in case they need to stay home. Americans should heed this advice for several reasons.

Firstly, CDC encourages one's own preparedness as an increasing number of city and state governments are establishing lockdowns mandating citizens stay at home and not leave to purchase supplies, meaning that normal shopping is actively discouraged. And it's good to minimize going out, as staying at home promotes social distancing, flattening the COVID-19 transmission curve to spread the virus's impact on the healthcare system across a longer timeframe. This is the most critical tool for minimizing the number of people who become sick, particularly those who need ventilators and other hospital-based critical care. It also helps minimize supply shocks for staples like rice, milk, eggs, and even toilet paper—as long as shoppers do not hoard them. 

After all, the CDC's advice is not a call for everyone to hoard; rather, it's recommendations to plan and ensure that high-risk Americans have enough food, medicine, and supplies to last through a disruption. It's one of the ways that we can all do something small that will have a large impact on a critical challenge facing the country.

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