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Josh Bergeron: Preparation is better than panic

For now, store shelves in many places are empty or, at least, a little more sparse than usual.

Temporarily, paper towels and toilet paper are in short supply until new shipments come in. Cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, water and just about everything else in the grocery section at major stores are in shorter supply than usual, too.

Those who haven’t already will soon see one of the most easily visible local effects of the COVID-19 outbreak when doing their regular weekly shopping at Walmart, Food Lion or wherever they frequent. Stores here and elsewhere are experiencing an artificial shortage of products. Even if people are not sprinting around the store to find what they need, they’re panic buying.

To a greater extent, it’s similar to when there’s a chance of snow in the forecast, with people purchasing milk, bread and other essentials.

Some stores, including Harris Teeter, say they’ll shrink store hours amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which seems unlikely to help dissuade people from panic buying.

There must be a middle ground between apathy and panic.

We must treat COVID-19 as the threat that it is, but people are depriving their friends and neighbors of basic items by purchasing more than they reasonably need.

Water, for example, is not in short supply and is unlikely to be any time soon because of the spread of COVID-19. Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, which serves most municipalities in the county, treats an average of 9.7 million gallons of water per day and is permitted to treat up to 24 million gallons per day. Tap water is cheaper than bottled water and the usual concerns about water quality can be alleviated by pitchers with water filters or those attached to the faucet. Meanwhile, there may actually be people in Rowan County who need bottled water because of a bad well.

People who may be diagnosed with coronavirus will not use more toilet paper than they would normally. They will only fill up their closets.

But if stockpiling is an illogical reaction provoked by fear, the temporary shortage makes sense.

The reason for purchasing products in bulk when they aren’t needed may be about taking back some semblance of control when the future is unclear. What’s more, mixed messaging from our country’s leaders has trickled down to the general public, with too many dismissing the pandemic as media hype. But with closures abounding, there’s cognitive dissonance about what may come.

People also look to their friends, neighbors and acquaintances for guidance; many of them are panic buying, too.

The truth is manufacturers will increase production. Shelves will once again be full of toilet paper and all the other products people unnecessarily bought. Closets will be full of those products, too.

Importantly, there is value in having a small supply of nonperishable food and other essential household products for emergency situations.

Preparation, though, is about more than buying things at the store. It means having a plan ahead of time to ensure you’re ready for whatever emergency may come. It applies to tornadoes and severe storms as well as a virus that doesn’t yet have a vaccine. And it means creating a kit before a global pandemic has reached our shores.

For longer than anyone can count, Rowan County emergency personnel have encouraged people to visit ReadyRowan.com, make a plan and assemble a kit in case of an emergency.

Maybe COVID-19 will be the impetus for people to do so.

Preparation is the middle ground between apathy and panic. We must treat COVID-19 as the threat that it is while also avoiding panic and fear, which will only compound the issues we’ll face.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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