Pandemic Panic Buying in Hawaii

Costco crowds waiting for doors to open

Last week the World Health Organization has officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic. So pandemic panic buying has begun.

The first time I started to pay real attention to the coronavirus was when Washington State reported its first case on January 20. But it wasn’t until three weeks ago that we started to get more concerned. Italy became the first country to implement a nationwide lockdown. Reports showed their rate of infection increasing exponentially. There were long lines at grocery stores where people were desperate to buy food, necessities, and supplies.

We started thinking and planning what we might need to buy, to prepare for our family before COVID-19 starts showing up here. After all, Hawaii is a high traffic tourist destination. Infections in Hawaii won’t be a matter of if…but when.

Panic Buying in Hawaii

Hawaii’s experiences with natural disasters and shipment stoppage is a deep-seated community fear that kicks in during times like this. Usually, the hot items are toilet paper, water, spam, and rice.

Three weeks ago, it was business as usual at most stores. It wasn’t that bad. Yet. Toilet paper was still on the shelves in abundance. There were no limits on how many you could buy.

The two items that were actually becoming extremely hard to find, were hand sanitizers and medical face masks.

Coronavirus Hot Items

Hand sanitizers and antibacterial products were sold out everywhere. We did manage to find pocket-sized hand sanitizers at Bath and Body Works. It’s a good thing we bought some when we did, because a week later they too were sold out. Someone told us that since then, on delivery days, they had long lines of customers waiting outside the stores before they opened.

Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer Pocketbac
Bath and Body Works on Feb 27 2020
Bath and Body Works hand sanitizers sold out during panic buying
One week later sold out

While you can no longer find medical masks in stores like Longs anymore, I did manage to get a pack of painters masks, which I shared with my elderly parents.

3M Cool Flow N95 respirator mask from Costco

Then on March 6, Hawaii announced it’s the first case of coronavirus. For many, it was a wake up call that it was time to start preparing for the pandemic. For others, it sparked their panic buying mode.

I actually saw some shoppers with shopping carts carrying stacks of just toilet paper. Last I heard you can’t eat toilet paper. And my understanding is that the coronavirus is a respiratory illness, NOT an intestinal disease. Come on people!

State of Hawaii officials announce first case of coronavirus in Hawaii
From Star-Advertiser on March 6 2020

You can just feel the panic buying energy at the stores and sometimes in the parking lot. Toilet paper and paper towels are at a premium everywhere. Bare shelves are becoming a common sight. Good luck finding these items.

Long's Drug Store empty toilet paper shelves during panic buying
Longs Drugs toilet paper aisles

From a little more than two weeks ago, people have also begun regularly lining up outside of some stores before they open.

Costco crowds waiting for doors to open during panic buying
Sunday morning at Costco March 1 2020
Costco customer waiting for doors to open during panic buying
People waiting to enter Costco

When Costco does have toilet paper in stock, you have to line up inside the store, along the side wall, as it snakes through the aisle, and back up the inner main walk. There is a limit of one package of toilet paper, and one package of paper towel per customer.

Costco toilet paper and paper towel line during panic buying
Toilet paper line along the side wall
Costco toilet paper and paper towel line during panic buying
Limit one per customer

Cleaning items like hand wipes and surface cleaners have become a popular product too. In particular, Clorox wipes get “wiped” out the minute it hits the floor.

Clorox disinfecting wipes 5 pack from Costco during panic buying
Surface cleaning wipes are becoming hard to find.
Costco empty shelves and bays during panic buying
Pallet of Clorox wipes sold out immediately

I understand the need for people to stock up on necessities in preparation for a disaster. In a way, shopping gives us a sense of control during a time we feel we don’t have any. But hoarding is unnecessary and runs counter to the aloha spirit. Pandemic panic buying puts a strain on the stores to maintain inventory. As a result, it makes it difficult for people who can’t afford to stock up, or impossible to acquire necessities for their own families.

So let’s all buy enough to sustain our families, but leave enough for other people. Being “in this together” is more than an idea or a catch phrase. It means being considerate of others during this pandemic.

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