Due to the threat of COVID-19, many students, alongside millions of Americans, have been forced to shelter at home. This shelter in place has led to the hoarding of essential resources, such as toilet paper. The effect of this hoarding has been felt by students across the state.
“We immediately sold out of toilet paper by probably 8 a.m., three hours after the store opened,” said Emily Seff, a junior biology major. Seff works at a Harris Teeter in Fredericksburg and while working there she has seen this hoarding of toilet paper first hand. Other students have also seen the effects of toilet paper shortages in their communities.
“My nearest Giant, CVS, and Home Depot are all out of toilet paper. I also noticed there were fewer paper towels and tissue paper on the shelves, but they were not completely gone,” said Shane Thin, a senior communications and digital studies major, who lives in Arlington.
Parker Siebenschuh, a junior history major has also felt the impact of the toilet paper shortage and of the increased health precautions grocers are taking. “At the Walmart in Stafford [Virginia] you can’t go in, they take stuff to your car, and they won’t have any toilet paper restocked until next week,” said Siebenschuh.
Around the country there have been shortages due to people buying toilet paper in large quantities. This has led to toilet paper aisles flooded with customers, viral videos of people buying multiple shopping carts worth of toilet paper, and in some extreme cases, people buying the entire stock from numerous stores with the intent of selling it at a higher price online. According to the Food Industry Association, this reselling of essential goods is considered a crime in several states including but not limited to Florida, Alabama and Virginia. Students have also seen a significant change in customer behavior in general due to the pandemic.
“They acted crazy and started hoarding stuff, and now you can’t buy hand sanitizer and soap. So for a while I couldn’t buy soap,” said Siebenschuh.
Bryce Anderson, a junior English major, noticed a change in his own shopping habits and the environment around him where he shops.
“For me normally when I need something I just go out and get it and come back. But now when I go to shop, I don’t really go out for ‘small stuff.’ I’m sort of stockpiling the things that I need. When I need to go out I’ll get everything,” said Anderson. “Now everyone kind of looks at each other like ‘you better not sniffle.’ I was in CVS and I felt a little tickle at the back of my throat and I was having an aneurysm trying to not cough.”
As to why people are buying so much toilet paper students have a few ideas, most of them attributing it to the feeling of safety having toilet paper provides.
“Because [people] are panicking. Even though COVID-19 is a very valid threat and is very dangerous, it’s sort of that mob mentality. ‘Oh no I have to buy a year’s worth of toilet paper.’ It is that knee jerk reaction to things,” said Anderson.
“When people buy toilet paper, they’re panicked. They’re panicking about how long they’re going to be in quarantine and because of that they’re buying more than they need,” said Siebenschuh.
“Toilet paper is an inexpensive survival item that you can just go out and buy with little effort,” said Thin. “People want to think that they’re doing something when they feel insecure. In this case, the threat is the coronavirus, and there’s not much people can do on an individual basis besides self isolate and social distance, which is a passive action, so they go out and panic buy to feel more secure.”
Seff believes that there is a mob mentality around getting toilet paper. “I think that the reason that toilet paper is being panic-bought is people started thinking that stores were sold out or someone posted an empty shelf on social media causing everyone to think that it was all gone and that it’d be impossible to get any soon,” said Seff.
Despite these shortages, students have been finding other solutions.
“I’ve been able to stay stocked by just checking every time I go in to work which is usually for an opening shift so there is some usually available. My family also checks whenever they go to the store and grab a pack if we need one,” said Seff.
With the state-sanctioned quarantine in Virginia lasting a minimum of 60 days, many students are trapped in their homes with their families, leading to an increased need for these essential supplies. As this pandemic continues to spread, students across the state prepare themselves to be under quarantine for the next few weeks.