The great toilet paper panic of 2020 started in Arizona: study
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The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 brought anxiety not only about how the virus was being transmitted but panic about going out in public and stocking up on products to survive lockdowns.

The first US city that faced a reported diagnosis of COVID was Seattle, where toilet paper quickly disappeared. Panic buying then commenced across the US, beginning in Arizona, according to a study flagged by the Phoenix News Times.

"Cherry Digital, a public relations and content marketing agency based in Portland, Oregon, and London, conducted an analysis of Google search data for the phrase “toilet paper” through March 2020," said the report. "The findings at the height of the panic buying period were compared to data that was compiled beginning in March 2019."

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There was a 11,115 percent increase in online searches for toilet paper during the pandemic, the company explained.

“Societies generally function because there is confidence and trust in the system,” content marketing director Jamie Gibbs explained in a press release. “The pandemic marked an anxious time for many people, and therefore that very trust began to erode at an alarming speed, which explains why panic buying took place. Despite appearing to be an irrational thing to do, hoarding everyday items was actually a predictable human action.”

The epicenter was Phoenix, the report explained, and nine of the top 10 cities listed in Arizona for the panic buying were in that metro area – except Tuscon, which ranked fifth.

Panic buying isn't unheard of, a 1989 research paper from Rider University explained.

"In a crisis situation, there is a breakdown in the intellectual abilities of the individual in terms of processing information, assessing the environment, and analyzing alternatives," they explained. "The greater the perceived time pressure, the smaller the number of alternatives considered, the greater the likelihood that decisions will be made before necessary, and the greater the likelihood of incorrect choice of alternatives."

People are also more likely to purchase things that show their greatest vulnerability, like toilet paper. It can also make matters worse as people are shopping and they see empty shelves for items, leading to more panic buying in the stores.

“During COVID, Arizona had more vacant shelves than other states,” Phoenix economist Jim Rounds the site. “More empty shelves means more panic buying.”

Supply chain issues with inflation made panic buying in 2020 even worse. Then people were staying at home more, which meant that people needed more toilet paper at home.

Read the full report at the Phoenix New Times.

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