During the Spanish flu of 1918, it was Vick’s VapoRub. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it was canned food. Now, as the number of cases of COVID-19 grows worldwide, it’s, among other things, toilet paper. In times of precarity, people often resort to hoarding resources they think are likely to become scarce—panic buying, as it’s sometimes called. And while it’s easy to dismiss as an overreaction, it underscores just how difficult it can be, for both the general public and public health authorities, to choose the right response to a dangerous, rapidly evolving situation.
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