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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

In Other Words: COVID Shortages Reveal the Best And Worst In Us

The low choice of certain lumber items is real.
By Chuck Keller

I needed some treated 2x4 pieces of lumber to do some deck repairs. The problem was that the home improvement lumber yard didn’t have any. The attendant told me they haven’t been any in weeks and that the shortage was due to mill workers being sick with COVID. Eventually I found what I needed but I heard the same story from other people and in other places. Turns out people are doing lots of repairs and building projects. Oh, and the cost has skyrocketed.

Turns out, there are lots of COVID shortages. Lots. But those shortages, all pretty short term, reveal what we are doing as well as something about us. It reveals the strengths and weaknesses in the systems we have built as well as tests our personal strengths and weaknesses. As I examined these shortages, though, I see that they fall into a few revealing categories.


We are a busy lot, but since the pandemic hit we are even more physically active. In addition to walking and walking and walking, we are busy with a few other activities. There are shortages of bicycles, kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, fishing gear, pools, remote control cars, and more. Oh, you can still buy the expensive top of the line pieces but the reasonably priced items are scarce. Someone told me he had to drive to Columbus, Ohio to buy a used bicycle. And if you have a bike that needs repairs, well, prepare to wait weeks instead of a few days.

There were shortages for the garden. For a while it was hard to find chicken wire, tillers, post hole diggers, and garden implements. On the flip side, though, books sales are up about gardening, cooking, and children’s books.

So we are busy. Good. But we also need to relax so it’s not surprising that there is a slow down with finding or receiving furniture. Desks, especially children’s desks, are hot items. And some folks have to wait months for furniture to arrive rather than the usual few weeks. One person I know has to use her patio furniture in her living room until the new pieces arrive.

There has been a run on home exercise equipment since people are reluctant to go to the gym but feel the need to move. Ammunition is in short supply too. The only connection I see there is that they both blow off steam.

And we are adopting more pets which gets us moving and helps us to relieve our stress as well as bring joy to people. Companion animals enrich our lives.

We have discovered lots of ways to burn off energy but I wonder, though, as cold weather approaches what kind of demand on winter sports merchandise there will be. I’m going to predict that there will be shortage of fire pits and outdoor propane heaters.


I don’t have to tell you about how hard it is find cleaning and disinfecting materials. You already know this. Now that we can generally find toilet paper some other shortages pop up like disinfecting wipes and sprays, trash bags, sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, paper towels, and window cleaners.

Erik Mclean: Unsplash

That tells me that we are really trying to keep our homes and selves clean. People are cleaning out the closets, basements, and garages too. Donations seem to be up a bit to non-profit organizations.


First off, there is plenty of food in the stores, but there are some odd things going on. I was chatting with someone the other day and she told me that she couldn’t find canned peas. I admit that I am not much of a grocery shopper but that sounded weird. Turns out, she was right. And there are lots of other odd shortages - like canned tomatoes.

Apparently beets are hard to find. I had trouble finding yeast and bread flour. But others tell me that that there are shortages of their favorite drinks. That’s because there’s a high demand for aluminum cans and there just aren’t enough to meet the sudden demand.

Deep freezers are hard to find. So are appliances like microwaves. So apparently we are upgrading our home cooking and food storage systems. We tend to stock up when we feel threatened however mildly.


There are spot shortages of electronics and associated gear. Some students may find it difficult to find laptops. On the flip side, though, streaming service subscriptions are up. We are using electronics to keep in touch, educate, and conduct business. It’s a new world and it’s moving fast so it’s going to take some time and experimentation to get things right.

OrangeTheory fitness, Newport Pavilion


We are spending more time together. We are investing in our closest relationships. Our turn inward is having some outward effects - better relationships, creative cooking, attention to cleanliness. And we just might be getting healthier in the process which is quite the irony.

But we are simultaneously suffering a general shortage in humanity or just plain kindness to others. Our insulation shuts us out from the lives and needs of others. Our insulation can shut us out from other voices and ideas. Our insulation can make us angry. Compassion, empathy, kindness, respect, and patience are the grease of our social machine and it needs to be regularly maintained. We cannot afford a shortage of these.

This crisis is far from over. We cannot lose sight of what gives us hope, meaning, and purpose. Be kind. Be creative. Be safe. Not a bad mantra for any time.

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