There’s a lot about the current coronavirus nightmare we’re all living through that, in hindsight, looks like it was fairly inevitable. The fact that the nine-year-old movie Contagion and the upcoming novel by Texas writer Lawrence Wright both managed to accurately predict certain elements of the pandemic tells us that experts had a rough idea of what the shape of an outbreak would look like. The experiences of residents of China and Italy—among other countries—who faced COVID-19 before we did gave us insights that some among us used to mitigate the disaster. But one thing nobody could have expected even just six short weeks ago? The fact that toilet paper would be among our most precious commodities in the midst of a global pandemic.
Early Wednesday, a tractor-trailer carrying a massive load of TP crashed on Interstate 20 just south of Dallas, according to KBTX, spilling some of its stock of plush white gold along the interstate as it caught fire, and burning its precious cargo. (The driver, who was traveling with his dog, was uninjured, according to the station.) Texas Department of Transportation officials said that the rolls appeared to be the large bulk product found in commercial bathrooms and not consumer products in familiar packaging (you know, the ones boasting that four rolls of toilet paper are somehow secretly sixteen rolls).
Any product loss like that right now does put a strain on a limited resource, but it’s worth noting that there isn’t an actual toilet paper shortage in this country—at least not as an underlying problem with the supply chain or because of the sort of increased demand we’re seeing for products like N95 masks and nitrile gloves. To put it plainly: People are still pooping the same amount as they were before; they just bought all the toilet paper on the shelves because they worried about running out. As people’s hall closets fill up with reassuring extra rolls, the artificial demand placed by the temporary scarcity will subside, as the capacity of manufacturers to make more of the stuff remains unchanged (or even increases). So we will weather the storm, such as it is, without a permanent need to separate each ply as a rationing measure or to install bidets in our bathrooms.
In the meantime: Don’t hoard essential products, shed a tear for that which was lost in the dark of night on I-20, and rest assured that, while many things about our lives in the weeks, months, and even years to come feel more uncertain than ever, we will still have enough toilet paper whenever our new normal is found.