As many Americans spend the day anxiously waiting in line for household products, which are low in supply in stores, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar attempted to crack a joke about toilet paper and the rapidly changing coronavirus crisis.
“These guys are selling a lot of toilet paper… do you need to give some guidance that toilet paper is not an effective defense against getting the coronavirus,” Azar, 52, said to the CEOs and presidents of Target, CVS and Walmart, who joined President Donald Trump to address the country on how big companies, as well as the government, are combatting the spread of the pandemic.
While it’s clear the coronavirus is not directly related to one’s bowels, it seems the hysteria is stemming from the idea of having to be confined to one’s home and not being able to stock up on supplies readily.
“Bulk buying toilet paper eliminates the small risk of running out if quarantined. People might not be able to eliminate the risk of catching coronavirus but they can eliminate the risk of running out of toilet paper, which makes most people feel they have control in this very uncertain situation,” Dr. Jay Zagorsky told The Boston Globe.
Since the outbreak, social media users all over the world have shared several tweets and videos of people panic-buying toilet paper and other household supplies.
“I’m not panicked about the virus itself, I’m panicked at the mass panic. I’m panicked about not having toilet paper or bleach or water or dog food. I’m most panicked that it could get to where there’s a shortage of food bc I have a child to feed. THAT scares me the most of all,” one user tweeted.
“F—- this sh– for real. This is going on at Costco in Tuscan, AZ. Water shortage and no toilet paper,” a man tweeted alongside a video of a long line of hundreds of people waiting to check out.
In a video shared by ABC News Australia, a group of people can be seen fighting following a toilet paper shortage in a local supermarket.
However, the toilet paper shortage will not continue on for long, The New York Times reported.
Major retailers explained manufacturers and paper industry executives are raising production to meet the demand, The New York Times reported.
Azar’s comments came as Trump declared a national emergency — “two very big words” — in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
He said the declaration would unlock about $50 billion in funding to aid the local, state and federal response to the virus.
Trump also touted partnerships with various private corporations and laboratories to increase dramatically the scale of coronavirus testing nationwide, which has so far lagged demand and been plagued by problems. The president insisted this increase would begin in a matter of days.
In California, New York and Washington state — where COVID-19 has spread quickly — officials have taken drastic measures to slow the rate of new infections. States like Maryland and Ohio have followed suit, in a bid to prevent similar numbers of cases there.
An emergency under the Stafford Act would allow the federal government to use its vast resources to support and cost-share with state and local governments.
“An emergency declaration would allow a state to request a 75% federal cost-share for expenses that include emergency workers, medical tests, medical supplies, vaccinations, security for medical facilities, and more,” Bloomberg reported, citing congressional Democrats who have urged such a move.
As of Friday, there are now at least 1,663 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S, PEOPLE previously reported.
At this time, 41 people in the U.S. have died from coronavirus-related illness, mostly in Washington state.
The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the zika epidemic in 2016.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes ,PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.
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