WATERTOWN — Many local shoppers, unbothered but wary of the coronavirus, expressed frustration this week with recent panic and bulk shopping at area stores — and were definitely curious about where all the toilet paper went.
Sharon Graves was browsing the dairy section at Walmart on Friday morning. She looked confused at the nearby teepee shelf, which was all but empty.
“It’s common sense,” said Ms. Graves, who lives in Adams. “You should have already had toilet paper in the house. You should have already had flour. You should have already had cleaning supplies. You know?”
All of the nearly 20 other shoppers the Times spoke with shared a similar sentiment. Some were socially isolating themselves partially — like not going to the mall — others were going to the pharmacy, store and that was it. Some expressed how a widespread scarcity of toiletries wouldn’t have happened if people were mildly prepared.
Tara Cole, who’s a sociologist, counselor and social worker in Watertown, said much of the worry and anxiety associated with the novel coronavirus comes from a sense of feeling a lack of control about things that are important to daily life and functioning.
“Panic buying,” she said, “represents an effort to gain control in the face of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty.”
A self-employed logger who, too, was shopping at Walmart on Friday morning, said he had already been to Sam’s Club for toilet paper, though the shelves were bare.
“What’s the whole thing with the toilet paper?” he said. “This place is bare, too.”
Bonnie Billhardt, Adams, isn’t letting it stop her from shopping as well.
“I’m not worried about it,” she said. “And I’m not staying home.”
James Blodgett, who also was at Walmart, has a diet that doesn’t allow him to stockpile food for a long period of isolation. He’s had a heart attack and requires produce and fresh poultry to carry on. His daughter, though, has been stockpiling materials in light of the coronavirus. She lives in Alaska.
“I understand,” he said at Walmart. “But for me, I’m not going to change my habits any differently than what I did last year around this time.”
He said he’ll be more vigilant as the coronavirus continues to spread, like avoid a concert or large crowds. But he’ll also be business as usual, like how he washes his hands.
Pat Meaney, who lives in Cape Vincent and was at Price Chopper on Friday, feels the same: “I’m not doing anything differently,” he said.
Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, told the Times she’s very pleased President Donald J. Trump declared a national emergency on Friday. The move will free-up billions of dollars to combat the virus and reduce regulations facing hospitals, health centers and clinics, among other things. The FDA this morning also announced that New York can start using private labs to test for the virus.
Ms. Stefanik said she knows there haven’t been many confirmed cases of coronavirus in her district, but she hopes her constituents will take it seriously and to continue hand washing and avoiding large groups.
Sarah Kingery is worried about people hoarding supplies when there are elderly parents and immune-compromised children that need them now. On a recent errand to find hand sanitizer, Mrs. Kingery and her mother went to Sam’s Club, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Hannaford’s, Big Lots, Target and Walgreens. None of them were carrying hand sanitizer.
It kind of became a game after the first two had none,” said Ms. Kingery, adding that it was also unavailable from Amazon.
But above all, it’s the toilet paper that perplexes her the most.
“Everyone is on the same page on ‘why is the toilet paper gone?’” she said. “But yet, the toilet paper is gone.”
Her 2-year-old son will need baby wipes soon, which she said are also in short supply. But she’s been able to find those online. The more pressing concern is canned goods.
“I honestly think people really need to focus on what’s going to be important,” she said, “which is food.”