The Editor’s Desk: Keep calm and carry on

Thinking about hoarding toilet paper? One simple word: don’t.

I have a few questions about this COVID-19 virus. How worried should I be? On a scale that goes from “What, me worry?” on one end to Chicken Little on the other, I’d say somewhere around “cautious” is about right.

So I don’t need to panic? No.

What about stocking up on items? Should I be doing that? If you’re worried that you might have to self-isolate, or you want to avoid going out as much as usual, you might want to pick up some extra non-perishable food items. Buying more soap and/or hand sanitizer — although not on a scale that suggests you’re supplying a hospital — is probably a good idea.

You haven’t mentioned toilet paper. You’re quite right.

But I’ve seen people getting into fights over toilet paper, and some stores having to limit quantities. What’s with that? Excellent question. COVID-19 does not — how to put this delicately — cause those who have it to need to spend more time in the bathroom than normal, so quite why there has been a run on it is something of a mystery. Experts have ascribed it to panic buying and herd mentality.

What do you mean? A few people decided, irrationally, that they needed to stock up on toilet paper, depleting shelves in the process. Other people saw those depleted shelves, thought it meant they were missing the boat in some fashion, so took what they could, leaving the shelves bare. More people come along, see nary a square of toilet paper in sight, and panic. It’s rather like in Soviet-era Russia, when people would see a queue outside a shop and automatically join it, without knowing what product people were queuing for or wondering whether it was something they needed or even wanted.

So I don’t really need to hoard toilet paper? No. The same goes for protective masks. Some jurisdictions are having to plead with people not to stockpile these, as it is leaving people who really need them — doctors, nurses, health care workers, those who work in nursing or long term care homes — short.

You mentioned self-isolation, and I understand the period is two weeks. Surely I’d need enough toilet paper to get me through? Yes, but ask yourself how likely it is that you, or anyone in your household, will need to self-isolate for two weeks. In the extremely unlikely event that it does happen, and you run out of toilet paper, there are alternatives.

Such as? Well, for thousands of years women managed several days each month with pieces of cloth, which they washed and reused, and cloth diapers used to be all that was available. COVID-19 is not the post-nuclear apocalypse, so here at least, hot and cold running water, washers and dryers, and laundry soap are still available.

I hear that washing your hands is the best way to stop the spread of the virus and keep yourself healthy. It can’t be that simple, can it? As the advertising slogan says, it’s just that easy. Run hot water over your hands, lather up, then wash thoroughly for 20 seconds before rinsing in more hot water. If you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizer will do.

Anything else I can do? Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. This is the perfect time to dig out those cotton handkerchiefs you have in a dresser drawer somewhere. If you don’t have a hankie or tissue, use the crook of your arm. Also, don’t touch your face, and it’s probably best to avoid shaking hands with people.

What can I do instead? A friendly nod of the head is fine. Some people are bumping elbows or touching feet. You do you.

Any final words? Keep calm and carry on might be something of a cliche, but it’s sound advice. Put it this way: keeping your head almost never makes a situation worse, but I’ve yet to see panic make a situation any better.

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