Empty shelves that once held toilet paper were a familiar sight for weeks in El Paso. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

There may never be a clear answer as to why El Pasoans cleared store shelves of toilet paper weeks before the first reported case of COVID-19 hit the borderland, an expert says..

Ten weeks into the pandemic officially reaching El Paso, the once mundane albeit necessary hygiene product suddenly turned hot commodity is slowly returning to store shelves.

Dr. Fabrizzio Delgado Credit: Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Physicians

Dr. Fabrizzio Delgado, division chief for the psychiatry consult service at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso and assistant program director for the Internal Medicine/Psychiatry combined program, said panic buying toilet paper and other cleaning supplies was an interesting phenomenon.

“At the beginning people were really scared that this was going to be the end of the world. We’re going to have to stay at home for five months, six months and markets are going to be closed forever,” Delgado said. “So I think that was the rationale.”

Delgado also said hoarding behavior might be attributed to the fear of not being in control and the fear of lacking enough food or being clean.

It may have started with one individual stockpiling and everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, he said.

For weeks, toilet paper supplies were snapped up from stores within minutes of becoming available. Many people had to wait in lines and stores placed a limit on how many packages families could purchase at a time.

Delgado said the state of panic does not last. “We can maintain panic for a little while, but then our senses become adjusted,” he said.

An individual can sustain a panic attack for about 30 minutes, but a panic state in the community would last a week or two before people start adapting, he said.

“Within a few weeks you see people have developed their own new ways of living and that’s what we are seeing right now,” Delgado said.

He said people have mostly adjusted to the reality that they have to wear face coverings in public, but can leave the house to do what they need to do.

He said it takes people 90 days to become more adapted to a new way of life or lifestyle. 

“No one has been through this in our lifetimes,” Delgado said.

Delgado estimated that by mid-June, approximately three months since the pandemic reached the borderland, people should be able to either come to a new reality or back to normal or adapted.

Delgado said he does not foresee another stage of panic buying unless the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19 in the community take a drastic turn.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...