Essential reporting in volatile times.

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By the time I arrived at my neighborhood Kroger store on Thursday night, the first major wave of coronavirus panic buying was beginning to ebb.

In the parking lot, scores of shoppers were loading the night’s cargo of hastily purchased products into their vehicles, and securing them in place by slamming shut doors and hatches.

At the checkout stations, lines of overloaded buggies were only two or three deep, their operators looking tired but pleased at having snagged the last remaining multi-packs of the approaching virus’s most sought-after survival item: toilet paper.

Buying enough non-perishable food to make it through two or three weeks of self-quarantine, I can see. An earlier wavelet of panic-buying that temporarily eliminated supplies of protective face masks, I can sort of understand.

But bringing several months worth of toilet paper home to stockpile in garages and basements while waiting for the approaching apocalypse to arrive and move on, I don’t get. While the Kroger store’s paper products aisle was cleaned out, ample supplies of canned meats, canned or frozen vegetables, pasta and cereal remained.

Had I been left off the mailing list for the memo about being able to wipe out COVID-19 with toilet paper, instead of waiting for a vaccine to be developed?

As it turns out, people around the world have been hoarding toilet paper in response to the coronavirus for days, if not weeks, before the practice caused the brief stampede that cleared the paper products aisle of the Cross Lanes Kroger.

In Hong Kong, according to numerous news reports, a gang of desperadoes put the squeeze on a truckload of Charmin as it was being offloaded at a supermarket, making off with 600 rolls after holding the driver at knifepoint.

In Australia, after toilet paper panic buying devolved into shoving matches at a number of stores, the NT (Northern Territory) News of Darwin printed an eight-page special supplement in a tongue-in-cheek bid to bring about peace.

A front-page notice informed readers that inside the paper, starting on page 21, an emergency supply of one-ply TP was available, “complete with handy cut lines” for readers to follow with their scissors to separate individual “sheets” from the supplement. To promote national unity, a pattern consisting of small maps of the land Down Under appeared on each sheet.

If panic buying persists in the area, keeping new stocks of TP off the shelves, it’s possible (in the same way it’s theoretically possible that neighboring counties in Virginia will heed our governor’s call to secede and join our state) that this publication will produce a similar bonus section.

Nothing would do more to bring quality bathroom tissue back to our supermarkets than relying on a substitute of single-ply newsprint.

As former Washington Post Publisher Phil Graham once said, “the newspaper is the first rough draft of history.”

In this application, the accent is on the “rough.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.