You're not the only one who's noticed empty toilet paper aisles and woefully long grocery store lines in San Francisco (and elsewhere in the Bay Area).

With COVID-19 cases spiking and shutdowns on the horizon, denizens of the Bay Area have, again, picked up one of March's bemoaned consumer habits — panic shopping. Despite the fact there's no sign of supply shortages that could validate stocking up on essential goods in this manner, it hasn't stopped long lines forming outside Costco stores and other supermarkets and grocery stores across the Bay Area.


An empty toilet paper aisle at a Safeway in Marin County. (Courtesy of SFist/ Matt Charnock)

KRON4 reported on the recent uptick of panic shopping that's led to empty shelves and long lines at grocery stores and supermarkets in San Francisco. (I, too, noticed unusually sparse — or flat-out empty — shelves at Marin County Safeway this past Friday. It appears the past few months have also confirmed that toilet paper stocks serve as a litmus test for a population's collective anxiety level.)

Ironically enough: All this impromptu hoarding does is put unneeded pressure on both suppliers and shipping centers to contend with inflated consumer demands — oftentimes leaving them unable to meet those orders. This not only strains already understaffed businesses selling those in-demand goods, but panic shopping disproportionately hurts individuals in our communities who, more often than not, are the hardest hit by the pandemic – the elderly, immigrant labor workers, and first-responders contending with long hours and less time to purchase essential goods. (It's this very reason why supermarkets like Safeway, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods, as well as some larger retailers, continue to open their doors an hour early for certain members of the public a few days a week.)

At its core, panic shopping exists as a proxy to our feelings around material deficiencies and the irrational fears we harbor. As the Chronicle pointed out in a piece on the buying trend last month, "negative emotions" and unrealistic perceptions — especially those around food stability — tend to create feelings of overwhelming despair and despondency, which have only ballooned as the pandemic’s gotten progressively worse.

2020's proven to be an out-of-control year; human beings, though, tend to always make a beeline toward certain; panic shopping — which is simply a popularized term for hoarding — gives us some semblance of assurance that we're ready to deal with prophesied hardships that may or may not come to fruition.

So, no: Don't go out and clear the shelves... even if the people six feet to your left or right are doing just that. In the end, panic shopping only makes matters worse for the rest of us — and like we said earlier, primarily for those most affected by COVID-19.

Related: Breed Announces New Stay-At-Home Orders for SF Ahead of State Mandate; Outdoor Dining to Cease Until January

Photos: The Mission District on the Eve of Sheltering in Place

Image: Empty aisle shelf at a California grocery store. (Courtesy of Getty Images via stellalevi)