Coronavirus panic has anxious shoppers turning to preppers for advice

When survivalists go shopping amid a coronavirus scare.
When survivalists go shopping amid a coronavirus scare.
Image: AP Photo/Marta Lavandier
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At a press conference earlier this week, Aimee Sisson, the health officer of Placer County, California, gave a few words of advice following the first deaths from the new coronavirus in the state. “It’s good to have two weeks of supplies on hand,” she said, “in case your family was asked to quarantine.”

It sounds straightforward enough—but what does two weeks of supplies actually look like? For individuals new to disaster purchasing, it can be hard to know where to start. In some cases, shopping pandemonium has already set in: In Sydney, Australia, police were called after a fight over toilet paper broke out in a supermarket. Meanwhile, survivalist and camping stores are swamped with orders for everything from powdered eggs to solar-powered radios. (At the other end of the scale, luxury $35-an-ounce hand sanitizer is also on back-order.)

To filter out some of the noise, many people have turned to prepper subreddits for advice—so much so that one of the most popular among them, r/Preppers, issued a statement encouraging users not to panic buy. As a moderator of the forum wrote:

Prepping is about PREparing for emergencies, not creating a supply shortage because you now suddenly need three boxes of N95 masks for your personal use…Every time there is an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami or in the most recent case, a new virus r/Preppers gets inundated with panic posts…We went through this exact thing years ago with SARS. Several great posts came out after the fact, and I encourage you to read up on them, see the fear and panic, and realize how many of those people still have a bunch of crap stored in their basements and garages that is a complete waste of space and money.

In a bid to help those who may be new to preparing for “disasters both natural and man-made,” contributors to the subreddit have compiled lists of long-life foods, including vegan and vegetarian options. Others have offered ingenious solutions to in-store shortages: A tutorial for a home-sewn protective mask has been viewed thousands of times, while a grow-your-own-loofah guide suggests using the plant as an alternative to regular kitchen scrubbing pads.

Meanwhile, the survivalist spirit is alive and well with lifestyle brands such as Bon Appetit, which suggests using long-life condiments such as mustard, horseradish, and hot sauce to add flavor to potentially bland food-as-sustenance. Fermented foods including pickles and kimchi are also on the list.