03-14 walmart toilet paper

Empty Walmart shelves where reams of toilet paper used to sit. The spread of COVID-19 has sparked worldwide panic buying, with toilet paper the most-desired item.

Panicked local buyers are emptying the store shelves of toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer.

At Palestine's Walmart Friday afternoon, the parking lot was full and the store aisles carrying paper products and disinfectant jammed; other areas of the store were virtually empty.

“This is crazy,” said retired Palestine High School math teacher Tony Leach.

Social media is partly responsible, he said, for the crowds Leach had to wade through to get his weekly supplies of paper products and water.

Despite demand far outweighing supply, local prices of hard-to-find items, such as toilet paper, water, or sanitizing products, remained stable at Walmart and other local retailers.

Discount stores in town, such as Dollar General and Family Dollar, have not marked up their products during the shopping frenzy, either.

Not so for online giant Amazon.com: A household bottle of Lysol brand disinfectant, priced at $2 at local retail outlets, sells for almost $30 on Amazon. A 19-ounce can of Lysol brand foaming disinfectant bathroom cleaner – a $4 item – sells on Amazon for $27.

Here and around the country, fear, more contagious than the global spread of COVID-19, rules the day.

People feel out-of-control amidst a pandemic with no known cure. They buy familiar, inexpensive necessities in high volume to give them a sense of control, experts say.

“People are afraid,” local resident Lois Love said at Walmart, with four multi-roll packages of toilet paper, two packages of paper towels, and a few cases of water in her buggy. “They've lost consciousness of God's teaching.”

Love planned to return the excess products to the shelves.

Bessie Randle-Lewis of Grapeland, loading up on toilet paper and paper towels, said she overheard customers saying they were stockpiling toilet paper in fear of factories closing.

“I don't know if that's true,” Randle-Lewis told the Herald-Press. “It does make sense, though.”

Amidst widespread panic, it's hard to separate fact from fiction, or hysteria from reasonable concerns. President Trump downplayed COVID-19 as nothing more than a common cold, but the CDC and international health organizations warned people to prepare for the worst.

Fear of losing items such as medicines imported from China, for instance, or foods and crafts imported from Italy, where the pandemic has all but ceased exports, is reasonable.

Toilet paper, however, a symbol of panicked buying, is another matter. Nearly 150 U.S. factories produce millions of rolls a day.

Online price gouging is another reason to shop local, Palestine Mayor Steve Presley told the Herald-Press.

“These large, online companies can, and will take advantage of us if we don't buy local,” he said. “Palestine has always been a caring community. We can always count on residents helping residents.”

For more information on COVID-19 and the coronavirus, visit the Texas Health and Human Services web page: https://dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/

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