Purchase limits: Coronavirus hysteria forces stores to establish a rationing system

Braden Moss-Ennis, Opinions Columnist

There has been mass hysteria due to the global spread of the coronavirus. One of the fears some individuals have is the potential need to self-quarantine, indicating stores may not be open or they will be unable to purchase the products they need. As a result, many people have been going to stores to load up on some essential products like water, canned foods, and toiletries, to ensure they are prepared for such an event. However, the problem is that many of the items are now completely sold out in stores or are bought out again as soon as they are restocked.

More companies should limit the amount that one individual can purchase of certain products like water, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer, because it is important that everyone has access to these products, and many individuals may take advantage of this and the desperate public.

Some local businesses are already beginning to place such limitations on items. Smart & Final in Bakersfield has limited customers to four items from a list of products including disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, and toilet paper, according to Robert Price, a staff reporter for the Bakersfield Californian.

“Several stores have started placing signs up, limiting the amount of water people are allowed to take home at once,” Reyna Harvey, KBAK Fox 58’s news anchor, stated.

Furthermore, some companies have set country-wide limitations on purchasing items. For example, Kroger Co. has placed a five-item limitation per order on sanitization and cold/flu-related products, Fox Business reporter Evie Fordham writes in an article.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that high risk individuals, like older adults or those with serious medical conditions, stock up on supplies so they are prepared if they must stay indoors for a prolonged period of time.

Stockpiling has already had an effect on some CSU Bakersfield students. Laura Yaneth Topete, a senior kinesiology major, feels like she has to rush to potty train her youngest child.

“She barely began giving hints of potty training, but I feel that with the lack of diapers and wipes, I have to go full-force with it,” Topete wrote in response to a social media post by The Runner asking what students were stocking up on.

While it is fair for all individuals to want to be prepared for the future, the reality is that some individuals need essential items (i.e. water and toilet paper) to use right now. Placing limitations on individual purchases of items will help to ensure that more individuals who need certain supplies will receive them.

Another issue that arises is when people take advantage of the situation and try to sell the items that people need to make a profit.

An example of this can be found in Tennessee with Matt Colvin. He recently told reporters across the country about his inventory of 17,700 hand sanitizer bottles. Before Amazon and eBay restricted him from selling these items at higher prices, he had sold 300 bottles of hand sanitizer for anywhere from $8 to $70 per bottle, New York Times reporter Jack Nicas writes in an article covering resellers.

When essential items cannot be found in stores and people get desperate, many households are willing to pay more for these items. Some consider it better to pay higher prices than to not have the items at all. While the practice is not illegal everywhere, the practice is extremely unethical, especially when considering the concerns and needs of individuals are health-related.

It is understandable that people want to be prepared for the future, but perhaps there is still a way to do that without causing others to miss out on the products and services they actually need currently.

One thing that could be done is to sign up for a water delivery service, such as the one offered by Costco. The deliveries are on a schedule, and although it may cost a bit more than simply buying a case of water bottles at the store, it guarantees that the customer will receive water.

If someone is buying water to store for emergencies, they logically shouldn’t mind waiting a few days for it to be delivered when they aren’t planning on drinking it immediately anyway. Doing this can help individuals whose need for water is more imminent have a better chance at obtaining what they need.

Another way to prepare for the future is simply to utilize the items that we already have. Individuals often will leave their beverages unfinished, or buy food that they may never finish or make in the first place. Those concerned with ensuring they’re supplied for the future should ensure that they aren’t being wasteful with the supplies they do have.

Times of panic and concern can often lead to a lot of self-preserving decisions, but it is still important to think about the wellbeing of others. It is essential that those less fortunate can still obtain what they need.