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Editorial: For coronavirus, let’s hoard common sense, not H2O, TP

For those who recall the depleted store shelves of late 1999, the local hoarding created by fears of the COVID-19 coronavirus is nothing new.

Y2K was supposed to make computers “think” the onset of the year 2000 was really 1900, potentially causing chaos throughout banking and other computer systems. It led many to stock up on essentials, but not much occurred in early January 2000 outside of a few computer glitches.

Twenty years later, there’s another unnecessary run on local store shelves. This time it isn’t batteries and duct tape; it’s toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers, cold and flu medicines, and bottled water.

Members at Albuquerque’s West Side Costco, where many were loading up pallets of bottled water Friday, were greeted with a sign taped to empty shelves that read: “Due to circumstances out of our control we are currently out of toilet paper and paper towels.”

Some supermarket chains, like Kroger Co., are now placing limits on certain items such as cold and flu products. At times, various stores in the Duke City, including Target, Walmart and Smith’s, have been out of hand sanitizer. Some are also out of hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and sanitizing wipes.

The hands of New Mexicans have never been cleaner, and that’s a positive and proactive step. It’s important to pay attention to the advice of health officials and heed their recommendations as coronavirus spreads. As of Tuesday evening, more than 800 cases and 29 deaths in the United States had been reported – much fewer cases than the flu, but the higher contagion and morbidity rate are fueling uncertainty.

The No. 1 precaution is frequently and thoroughly washing hands.

Stocking up on flats of bottled water isn’t on the list.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority tells the Journal a widespread interruption of municipal water service due to COVID-19 is “extremely unlikely,” and COVID-19 would be removed by usual disinfection practices. Water Authority spokesman David Morris says “there is no reason to ‘hoard’ bottled water.”

And while federal agencies recommend keeping several days to several weeks of water on hand, “this does not mean that one should rush out and purchase a pallet of bottled water,” Morris says. “Storing tap water in food-grade containers or even in properly sanitized plastic soft drink bottles is an acceptable alternative – and would likely be easier on the pocketbook and the environment.”

While it’s certainly good to be prepared, hoarding water and TP causes the shortages people are worried about, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. It encourages price gouging. And in a county and city so worried about plastic bags, remember all those used bottles have to go somewhere.

So the best things we can all buy into are the directions of health officials – in addition to that hand washing (soap and water, and it’s the scrubbing not the brand or temperature that matters), safeguard the health of the elderly and those with compromised immune systems (they are the ones most at risk), as well as that of their caregivers. Skip the handshakes and the crowds if possible. Wipe down those grocery cart and door handles. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Stay home if you’re sick.

In other words, be a responsible and courteous person during flu season – sound advice that holds, not hoards, water.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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