It’s been a week now since I watched Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins address the media with sweeping restrictions in response to COVID-19. His comments mirrored those of other governmental leaders across the nation. Through next Friday, Jenkins banned elective medical procedures, closed a variety of service businesses, and ordered enforcement of the six-foot separation rule when people gather in public — in grocery stores and take-out lines, for example.
Sadly, the judge’s focus was distracted in the direction of an issue more mundane than urgent: Placing a limit on the number of rolls of toilet paper shoppers can buy.
Imagine that. Then, he schooled people on what not to flush.
Didn’t we learn this in kindergarten? Don’t people know that flushing other types of paper — tissues, wipes, and paper towels — can cause expensive plumbing problems? Toilet paper dissolves in water. In contrast, facial tissues and paper towels expand, so flushing them often leads to a call to the plumber.
This toilet paper thing won’t go away, and faithful readers of this column are probably weary of seeing it mentioned here for the third consecutive week. I understand that. I’m weary of having to keep bringing it up.
We’ve been told there is no shortage of toilet paper, but this is something most people need to see to believe.
Everybody knows hoarding is counterproductive, but who wants to run out?
Everybody knows that families across the nation have stockpiles that will last for months, but people wonder — will it really be enough?
Intellectually, we know things. Even so, admit it. You’re tempted to pick up some additional rolls whenever you happen to find them, even if you don’t really need them.
From personal experience, I know it’s not an easy impulse to suppress. I suppose the compulsion to stock up will go away eventually, but it won’t happen until everybody can pace themselves. Then, supplies will return to normal. Or, at least, supplies will return to a new normal.
Toilet paper hoarding is a symptom of a much deeper problem in our society. We have an economy that’s created an unprecedented level of physical wealth for many, but it sometimes comes with a cost to basic humanity. That’s assuming you consider the entitled attitude of “gotta-get-mine” to be a negative.
Self-protection is a basic instinct, but in times of crisis, the urge to hoard at the expense of everyone else emerges as people act on fear. Maybe it’s only a can of beans, some bottles of water, or a roll of bathroom paper, but it happens.
It’s almost funny, but nobody will be laughing if distribution of other products just as indispensable, but much more critical to saving lives are unable to keep up with demand. We already know about shortages of ventilators and medical masks, but who knows what might happen next.
Amid the craziness, we do hear stories of goodness in the marketplace. Another retired journalist friend wrote about his trip to the store when he had flour on his shopping list. There was none left on the shelves, but a man he met was trying to return a bag of regular flour he had bought earlier because his wife required the self-rising variety. The man gave him his bag and refused the offer of reimbursement.
A small act, but evidence that kindness hasn’t totally evaporated.
When this was written, Brown County had confirmed its third case of COVID-19, and local leaders are monitoring the situation here in case more austere restrictions are appropriate. Meanwhile, scores of counties in rural Texas — 190 out of 254 in all — have yet to confirm any infections. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen, so far, to leave the most severe actions at the discretion of local officials, because in a state as large as ours, one rule won’t fit every location.
Meanwhile, we should be kind to everyone, do the things we need to do to protect each other and ourselves, support our local medical professionals and businesses, and pray.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.