Washing groceries and hoarding toilet paper: COVID moments we can't forget from the week the world stood still

It might be hard to believe that two years ago some of us were waiting in long lines to get into the grocery store and then heaping carts full of toilet paper, water bottles and hand sanitizer. Or that we washed all of those groceries once we got home.

Over the past 24 months, we’ve become accustomed to life with COVID-19 and doing things that would have been unthinkable under normal circumstances. Earlier this year, a poll even found that 70% of Americans believe we should “accept that COVID is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.”

Back in March 2020, around the same percentage of people in another poll said they had changed their habits as the virus spread across the world at an alarming rate. Do you remember some of the things that changed in your life once COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic?

Here are some of the things we remember from the week(s) and months the world stood still:

Standing in line for groceries

As cities and states began going into lockdown in March 2020, people started flooding grocery stores. It wasn’t uncommon to see lines out the door while driving past Trader Joe’s, for example. It was also routine to see barren shelves and empty freezer cases. By April, Audacy reported that these crowds had become fatal for some workers.

Audacy posted some tips for avoiding grocery shopping crowds in November, months after the pandemic began. Sales of grocery delivery and pickup in the U.S. also skyrocketed during the COVID-19 era and continue to be popular. Companies like Walmart and Kroger announced more delivery services this year.

Hoarding toilet paper and more

So many of the people in those lines were stocking up on toilet paper that by April Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the chain had sold enough toilet paper in a five-day period “to give every American one free roll.”

According to CNBC, as of September Costco was still putting purchase limits on toilet paper, paper towels, bottled water and some cleaning products. Hand sanitizer sales spiked 470% in the first week of March 2020 and sometried to resell it at higher prices. Texas-based vodka producer Tito’s started making hand sanitizer early on in the pandemic and donated over 1,270 tons of it by April 2021.

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Thankfully, Americans seemed to have gotten over their toilet paper-hoarding habits by that time.

Washing groceries

As supermarkets began installing plexiglass partitions and other COVID-19 safeguards, Americans also started a novel habit once they got home from the store: washing their groceries. Why? We didn't yet know how COVID spread, whether the virus attached itself to surfaces or how long it lingered.

Washing groceries and hoarding toilet paper: COVID moments we can't forget from the week the world stood still

But even at the time, experts said wiping down cans of soup and bags of chips was probably overkill. Experts also said people wouldn’t need to wash their clothes after leaving the house. Instead, they recommended more frequent hand washing, or using those tons of hand sanitizer in a bind.

Other useful prevention methods – especially in the pre-vaccine days – included keeping a six-foot distance from others and of course, wearing masks.

Making masks

Americans may have become accustomed to a lot of pandemic-related life changes, but we still seem a little confused about masks. Who can blame us after scientists and researchers at the beginning of the pandemic weren't sure how mask use affected the spread of the novel coronavirus?

Before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for all Americans to wear masks in July 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some states and cities were already requiring mask wearing in public. As supplies of masks and other protective gear such as gloves and face shields flew off shelves, people started getting creative. Some taped coffee filters to their face or wore bandanas when masks were nowhere to be found.

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Eventually, hundreds of thousands of Americans made thousands of cloth face masks to help front line workers and others when N-95s were in short supply, including American Airlines employees at Dallas Fort Worth Airport.

As of February 2022, the CDC had updated mask mandates and now recommends washing cloth masks at least once a day or “as soon as they become wet or dirty.”

Baking bread

With COVID-19 lockdowns came the temporary and sometimes permanent closure of restaurants throughout the U.S.

Some people started ordering more takeout through apps such as DoorDash and Grubhub. Others started cooking. And a third category of people worked out their nerves and filled extra time at home by baking bread, filling social media with photos of homemade loaves. According to the Atlantic, Americans started baking so much that it was impacting the nation’s flour supply by May 2020.

Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa cooking show may be the reason why the bread craze portion of the pandemic may feel like a distant memory. She declared that the “sourdough phase” was over by October 2020.

Window hangouts

After two years of the pandemic, none of us are strangers to canceled events when numbers surge and most of us know our way around a Zoom call and other types of virtual meetings.

Another form of social-distanced communication brought on by the pandemic was typically seen around congregate living facilities, where case spikes were known to occur: window hangouts. Families of people living in assisted living facilities could be seen chatting with their loved ones through glass to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to AARP.

As of Sunday, close to 89% of people age 65 or older in the U.S. were fully vaccinated and 95 percent had received at least one dose of a vaccine, per CDC data. Overall, just over 65% of the total population had at least two shots and a little more than 44% had also received a booster dose.