The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The toilet paper shortage is real. But it should be brief.

The Post's Todd Frankel, who spoke to suppliers, says that the shortage is only temporary and due to initial consumer panic. (Video: The Washington Post)

Adding to the nation’s long list of worries sparked by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the shortage of toilet paper is real.

Store shelves in many places have been picked clean in recent days of single-ply and double-ply, single and jumbo rolls, the cheap stuff and the luxurious quilted squares, too.

Anything will do in an emergency.

The run on toilet paper has struck many people as peculiar, given that the need for the product is not expected to grow as millions of Americans adjust to working from home, closed schools, canceled events and the other abrupt interruptions to daily life caused by the pandemic.

But stockpiling is not an uncommon reaction provoked by fear, social scientists say. Fear of running out. Fear of the unknown and what is to come.

After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, researchers at Hitotsubashi University studied buying patterns and concluded, “we can say that particularly anxious households appear to have bought anything that they could lay their hands on.”

Including lots of toilet paper.

Now, the lack of toilet paper in the United States has hit some Giant supermarkets and Costco stores. Amazon appeared to be down to single rolls of novelty toilet paper in some places Friday.

Customers across the U.S. raced to stock up on water bottles, toilet paper and hand sanitizer amid a wave of panic-buying over the spread of the coronavirus. (Video: The Washington Post)

The shortages appeared to be sporadic and regional, with the degree of local concern about the pandemic driving sales.

But the nation’s lack of toilet paper is expected to be brief, according to interviews with retailers and manufacturers.

The sudden surge in demand is expected to subside and the supply will continue to grow as companies keep making toilet paper. About 90 percent of the toilet paper sold in the United States is made here, too, according to industry data.

“We continue to manufacture and ship Charmin to our retailers,” a Procter & Gamble spokesman said in a statement, adding the firm has noticed the sale spike and was working to fix availability problems.

But that still means some empty shelves, for now.

“Due to overwhelming demand, we are currently experiencing shortages and out of stocks on many household staples,” said Ashley Flower, public relations manager at the Giant Co., which runs 186 grocery stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. “We are focused on getting back in stock as soon as possible.”

But toilet paper has not disappeared entirely from stores. Ample supplies were available midday Friday at Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring, said manager Alex Xenochristos.

“We’ve been able to keep up with demand,” he said. “But I don’t know for how long.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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