The line outside Costco last Saturday morning wrapped from the front entrance down the entire length of the building. Only a few at a time were allowed inside to keep the store from overcrowding. This seemed ridiculous. Why would so many stand in a drizzling rain for so long? Was it because they heard Costco had toilet paper?
Some were likely bored from staying at home with nothing better to do than clean out their closets, read War and Peace or watch the 1983 NCAA basketball tournament. Spoiler alert: NC State still won. Patience be damned, these people just wanted to buy something.
In my case, my 98 year old mother, confined to her senior living complex with only care givers allowed to enter, said she was running out of the aforementioned toilet paper, even though I had bought her a 12 pack of Angel Soft - my mom deserves the very best - two weeks ago. This didn't compute. Forgive the bathroom humor, but according to my research each "double roll of two ply" contained 260 sheets. She had at her disposal (sorry for the pun) some 3,120 sheets. At 20 sheets per poop and, considering the average person has no more than two such events per day, mom should have had about an 80-day supply. She had probably been seeing all the media coverage about COVID-19 and, like many, was afraid.
We are in the early weeks of what is proposed to be a lengthy time with a highly contagious disease. We demonstrated patience, goodwill and even some enjoyment staying in place for the first few days, but that patience and goodwill ran out and a growing number have become scared or angry. Neither emotion moves us one step closer to getting out of this pandemic and likely will make things worse.
North Carolina is never better than in times of emergencies, be it hurricanes, floods or snowstorms. We have a record of good leadership assessing situations and taking actions for our best welfare. We citizens have an equally distinguished record of following our leaders' admonitions and pitching in to help. We saw up, rake up, muck out, and bring food, water and supplies to those affected. COVID-19 will likely require different approaches.
We are in unchartered waters, so let's begin by replacing fear and anger with patience and kindness. Our state and local government, healthcare and business leaders may make some decisions that aren't right, but they are doing their best dealing with the information they have. Having been in our state Emergency Operations Center I can testify there are many, getting little sleep, trying to do what is best for the most of us, while working under considerable stress. Let's cut them a bit of slack. Secondly, let's show some faith. Cleaning out produce shelves, meat counters and paper goods sections with panic buying and hoarding makes the statement we lack faith in our supply chains, but it also speaks to selfishness and a disregard of others. If everyone took just what they needed for now and had faith more supplies would be available, there are overwhelming odds supplies would level out.
Instead of being bored let's think of what we could do for someone else. Take a hot meal to a child who depends on their school for lunch. Maybe you could cook a meal, do yardwork, buy groceries, take someone to a doctor's appointment or pick up a prescription. At the least make a list and call, text or email others who would like an encouraging word. In recent days friends have been "checking in" with me to see how I'm doing.
And keep repeating that "this too shall pass." A New York restaurant owner interviewed on TV was questioned about the decision to close bars and restaurants. He said the decision would bankrupt his small restaurant group, quickly adding he supported the decision. He was concerned about contagious exposure to his employees and to his customers. But he convicted me when his said that this was our generation's World War II moment.
Our World War II moment. I thought back to the sacrifices of young men and women who gave their lives fighting, of citizens willing to ration butter, gas, eggs and fresh meats to feed the troops. Of people who gave up family silver and gold heirlooms to be melted down for needed supplies.
In World War II everyone did their part to help fight a war. What we are facing today is our war for this time. Some will make bigger sacrifices than others, but all will be affected. How will our generation meet the challenge?
Publisher's note: Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN
, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30pm, Sundays 12:30pm and UNC North Carolina Channel Fridays at 10:00pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and Sundays at 10:00am
. Contact Tom at NC Spin.