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What I Learned About the Coronavirus Pandemic From Shopping at Walmart

Empty shelves for disinfectant wipes wait for restocking, as concerns grow around COVID-19, Tuesday March 3, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Not once during the coronavirus pandemic have I freaked out.

Even after spending three days at CPAC only to find out an attendee tested positive for the coronavirus, I was surprisingly chill. My lack of worry over the coronavirus is actually shocking to me. Next week I turn 40, and I’ve been less than thrilled about it. Approaching this milestone has made me increasingly concerned over every ache or pain. “Is this a headache or a brain tumor?” “Is this indigestion or stomach cancer?” I ask myself questions like that a lot. It’s a side effect of getting older and feeling my age.

We’ve gotten through pandemics in the past, and the nation took even fewer precautions with the swine flu pandemic than we are now with the coronavirus. So, yeah, I’m sitting here at home, as I usually do (because I work from home) not worrying and doing my job.

There have been a few changes though.

My county recently declared a state of emergency, and schools are closing “until further notice.” Since I work from home, I don’t have to worry about issues like childcare like many parents do. While I’m fortunate enough to be in this position, when it comes to basic necessities, we’re all in the same boat, and Sunday night before dinner we realized we were out of hot dogs in my house, and hot dogs are my son’s favorite food. Not wanting to risk being without them while people are stocking up. I planned to make a quick run to the supermarket to get some so we’d have enough on hand “until further notice.”

The closest supermarket to me is a Walmart, and their shelves have been gradually getting low for a couple of weeks now. When I went there Sunday night, they were really low. Suddenly I realized I needed to get more than just hot dogs. I needed to make sure we had enough necessities at the house just in case it’s hard to get stuff later.

The shelves were the barest I’d ever seen them, but I noticed something else too. People weren’t panicking. I’d seen videos of fights breaking out in stores elsewhere, and while I’m sure that’s rare, I thought maybe I’d see evidence of public panic as I shopped.

But I didn’t. People simply looked at the shelves that still had product, found what they wanted or needed, and moved on without incident. There weren’t people racing down the aisle scavenging for the last loaf of bread or gallon of milk. Actually, there was still plenty of milk on the shelf.

In fact, from overhearing various conversations it was clear to me that, at least where I live, people aren’t shopping out of panic, but preparedness. Throughout the sections of the store I shopped, I overheard variations of the same themes:

“I’m not panicking, but if everyone else is stocking up, I need to as well.”

“This whole situation is ridiculous, it will be over soon.”

“I just want to be prepared.”

“I can’t wait for this to be over.”

“We’ll be laughing about all this in a few months.”

I was surprised. I didn’t encounter anyone who was freaking out—though one person complained they were running out of toilet paper in her house. Still, people were relaxed, not freaking out. They were maybe a bit annoyed they had to buy stuff they wouldn’t otherwise because people are hoarding, but mostly they were fine. People (most anyway) know we’ll get through this okay.

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Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis