People across the world are panicking over COVID-19 (the coronavirus). This panic has been pushed along by the media. This panic has led to people abandoning reason, thoughtfulness, and compassion. These are the exact things which we need to maintain during such an event as a pandemic. I have seen shelves of soap, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer fly off shelves and seen people whose carts overflow with these things. There has even been violence over the last package of toilet paper.1 People are taking way more than they need. By doing so these hoarders are depriving those who need it most of the products they rely on. The elderly and immunocompromised are at the highest risk of infection and not only need things like soap and hand sanitizer during a pandemic, but rely on these things to keep them protected and well on a day to day basis. These communities of people who are more susceptible are NOT DISPOSABLE and should be thought of first, before purchasing more than what one and one’s family may need. Those of us who are less vulnerable than others have a responsibility to those who are more vulnerable.
You do not need to hoard supplies to stay safe. This is a time to think of our communities and how we can best help our communities get through this the best we can. Yes, your community includes you and your family, so do not worry about being ignored. With that in mind here are some tips on how you can get what you and your family need without sacrificing your community or inadvertently depriving those in need of those things they need to be well.
Before you go out to purchase things in case of a quarantine look around and see what you already have. This is incredibly important. Be thoughtful about what you have and what you may need. Then try to calculate how long what you already have will last you and yours. I did this, and found that my, relatively meager, pantry contained enough rice and canned goods for me and my partner to survive for at least a couple weeks if we absolutely needed to. Our diets would be nothing fancy, mostly rice, beans, some frozen foods already in the freezer, and some canned goods, but in a real pinch we could make it work. This meant when I went to the store, I did not need much in terms of food. I picked up a bag of brown rice, I only had white at home, extra beans, and a few things we needed anyway, like coconut milk and some bananas. My guess, is that most of the people stockpiling (they can afford to) are in a similar situation as my own, if you stop and look and then evaluate you may already have all of the food you would absolutely need if you had to be quarantined for a couple of weeks. Remember, what we need to survive is very different than the capitalist consumer notion that we need pretty much everything they are trying to sell us in bulk. What we need for survival is food, water, and shelter.
Next, water. Now, in my neck of the woods, at this point, there is no foreseen water shortage. If you want to be prepared be sure you know where there are local sources of water that you can boil and filter if needed. In addition, go ahead and buy a couple gallons of water. However, leave most of it for others who may need it. Many people, particularly in rural areas, do not have clean drinking water that comes from the faucet. Their water may have chemicals, metals, or other undesirable materials in it and they often depend on store-bought for drinking water. This is something they need for the day to day. By taking more than you need you are depriving others of the water they need to survive. I live in a pretty rural area and we are often under boil orders, so we already have some drinking water for “just in case we get another boil order”.
If you have medications and can get extra, if you need it, then go ahead and get that extra medication.
The hoarding of toilet paper we have been seeing is completely unreasonable. Sure, pick up an extra pack of what you usually buy, just in case you are unable to make it to the store later. However, I have seen carts filled with toilet paper! People buying more toilet paper than they will probably need for months, unless they of course live with 20 other people or more. In addition, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus. This means that it mainly affects one’s breathing. The primary organ in the respiratory system is the lungs. It does not attack the bowels or intestines. So, there should not be that much of an extra need for toilet paper.
The point is, only take what you need and leave the rest. It is very good for you to wash your hands regularly with soap and water, um you should have been doing this anyway, but if you buy up all the soap and yours are the only clean hands, then you are going to have a problem. Do not just think of yourself and your family, but about your entire community as well. We are all in this together, let us not forget that.
Many states are taking precautions in order to mitigate the effects the virus may have on their communities. Some are saying, these precautions are outrageous that COVID-19 is nothing more than the regular flu that we deal with every year. These people are not part of the most vulnerable communities. They say, “stop making such a big deal out of it”. On the other hand, we have those who are completely freaking out because they feel like this is the worst illness that has ever hit the world. Well, as usual, these are two extreme opinions and the reality is somewhere in the middle. Is this the flu we deal with every season, no it isn’t. It is completely reasonable to monitor the situation and take reasonable precautions.
My state, Illinois, is doing things like cancelling all big events that draw huge crowds, like sports events.
They say either cancel or play without fans for a while. This is reasonable. Viruses spread more in large crowds of people, so avoiding large crowds. Avoiding large crowds is something many, like myself, do during flu season anyway. But is cancelling too much? Personally, I do not think so. A lot of people would probably show up anyway if they were not cancelled. To me this seems reasonable to protect our communities.
Do not forget to be patient and compassionate to those you meet. This is a good practice at all times, but even more important during a pandemic. We are all experiencing this together and we are all having a hard time so let us remember that and act accordingly. I particularly want to mention that our patients and compassion should be kicked up a level for those in the service industry right now. Be nice and patient with the person ringing up your purchases. They are doing the best they can and are overworked in times like these and remember they have their own families and communities to worry about. If you are going to a drive-through, be nice and patient to your server. Another part of the community I would like to mention that may need a little extra patience and compassion for our health care workers. These people are working as hard as they can and doing their best to help us and our communities stay healthy and to treat us when we are sick.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. Anxiety and stress affect the immune system, so in effect, panicking makes one more susceptible to illness. “If you repeatedly feel anxious and stressed or it lasts a long time, your body never gets the signal to return to normal functioning. This can weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses. Also, your regular vaccines may not work as well if you have anxiety.”2 If you are feeling anxious or panicked there are lots of ways you can reduce anxiety. Some of my favorite methods are breath work, meditation, and reading. For those of us with anxiety and panic disorders experiences, such as having a world-wide pandemic, can make this anxiety and panic even worse. Be sure to check in on your community members who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders and make sure they are ok. Believe me, just checking in with someone with anxiety and/or panic disorders can help relieve some of that anxiety.
Panic and anxiety also affect one’s ability to reason and make good decisions. Decision making is a cognative process of the prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobe of our brains. Our ability to make good decisions is based on the activity of certain neurons and their ability to engage with each other. “The PFC [prefrontal cortex] plays a pivotal role in executive functions that include: long-term planning, understanding rules, calculating the consequences of risk and reward, regulating emotions, problem-solving, and decision-making. Anxiety, in both animals and humans, appears to disrupt brain neurons in the PFC that are critical for making smart decisions.”3 What this comes down to is that if you are panicking and anxious, you will be unable to make good decisions. When we are in a state of anxiety we may do something like hoard toilet paper when there is a respitory virus pandemic. If one takes a moment to reduce their anxieties one improves decision making skills.4 Controling anxiety in our day to day lives is important, however, it is even more important in times of crisis and chaos. “Reducing anxiety is especially important during chaotic times, when you feel overwhelmed, or that your life is out of control. During times of distress, the latest research shows that people are likely to make poor decisions which can exacerbate anxiety, lead to more bad decisions and snowball into a downward spiral.”5
Things are chaotic now, and we all have a lot to deal with. However, it is no time for selfishness and thoughtlessness. In fact, this is a time that pettiness and selfishness should be put aside in favor of the health of the community. Even though our world may be threatened by a pandemic it is not the time to think only of yourself, be unreasonable, and lack compassion. If we take only what we need, take reasonable precautions, and be patient and compassionate we can help mitigate this disaster and improve our communities and our own qualities of life during these troubling times.