Remember March? That was when the coronavirus pandemic forced offices across the country to close and companies told their employees to work from home—if they didn’t fire or furlough them instead. Facing a public health crisis with an unknown trajectory, people prepared for the worst, stripping grocery stores of hand sanitizer and disinfectant, but also of products like flour and yeast and, yes, toilet paper.
The dueling headlines back then were either about empty shelves, or predatory price gouging. A New York Times article about a Tennessee man who purchased 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer intending to sell them at a markup online inspired thousands of angry comments on social media, and Matt Colvin became a target for hate mail and death threats.
Earlier in the pandemic, hoarders were blamed for wiping out toilet paper in stores as well, but the reality is a little more complicated. Think of those hundreds of thousands of office workers now toiling away from their beds, or couches, or kitchen tables—they used to go to the bathroom at work between the hours nine to five, approximately; now they go at home ‘round the clock. And most people at home buy the fancy quilted stuff, not the single-ply rolls you find in places like airports and fast food restaurants. Those two supply chains are separate and distinct—and after the pandemic hit, totally clogged up. (Similar dynamics have played out with milk, flour, and other supermarket staples.)
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