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Guns vs. Butter. On its simplest level this economic graph represents the country's need to produce guns during wartime versus the need for butter. With a finite amount of resources, which is more important to produce? Do we sacrifice national defense in lieu of household supplies? When the model was promulgated around the time of WWI, it was one or the other. 

Today, face masks vs. toilet paper is the new guns vs. butter. The more masks we need, the less toilet paper on the grocery shelves. 

When Coronavirus was limited to the Wuhan region and there were signs of it starting to spread around Asia, I bought a box of N95 face masks from Home Depot. There were 15 in the box and it cost about $25. I offered to give most of them to a friend who is a nurse. She told me to keep them as I would need them. She was right. I have since given them away to friends and family, saving one for me and one for mom. I also have two bandanas in the wings. 

The CDC and the federal government originally discouraged us from wearing masks but I never jumped aboard that ship. How many times have we heard it's okay to eat this and then are told it causes cancer? Or we have been encouraged to buy that and then learn it's a dangerous product? As a nation, we are now being encouraged to wear masks. Some counties, like mine, have gone even further. In Broward County, beginning today, the wearing of masks while in public is requested. Not a decree but hopefully all will comply. 

Instructional videos on how to make masks have popped up all over the Internet. This reminds me of when I was in elementary school and we'd have to hide under our desks during bomb raid exercises. Similar to the mass shooter drills our current school age students had when schools were off-line. It's a different kind of war we face now, but war all the same. Face masks, other PPEs and ventilators are our weapons.

My friend is a long time patron of Morton's Steakhouse and collects Morton Reward Points. He went there the other day to use his points and didn't emerge from the restaurant with a take-out steak or burger, but with toilet paper. When my neighbor goes to Publix during the morning hours designated for those over sixty-five years old, she contacts me first to ask if I need anything. Toilet paper, I say, knowing it is unlikely to be on the shelves. She has yet to bring home a square. I've taken to using paper towels -- a folded quarter sheet -- for after I urinate. I throw the paper towel in the garbage, stretching out the toilet paper I have left. Five rolls remain. Toilet paper is our butter.

There is a legitimate shortage of PPEs and ventilators. The onset of Covid-19 that has spread across the continents like cancer--and that we are woefully and tragically unprepared for but hopefully starting to catch up--has made the demand for PPEs far outsized by the supply. 

On the other hand, it is reported there is no shortage of toilet paper. Only hoarding. So, the century-old economic model of guns vs. butter still holds true with a modern twist. As we fight the Beast and need more weapons to do so, people are turning to what they can control: filling their bathroom cabinets with rolls of Charmin.

Perhaps with the new directive that homemade masks can prevent the Beast from sickening and killing us, and with more local governments directing its citizens to wear masks in public, we will feel a little more in control of our abilities to avoid this modern-day plague. As a result, we will no longer need to buy all the toilet paper off the shelves but rather will save some for our neighbors. 

A lack of toilet paper is a trivial inconvenience in light of the shortage of ventilators, masks and gloves, in view of the need for a unifed effort to coordinate obtaining supplies and getting them to where they are required in order to save lives, and in recognition of the need for a short-term federally mandated stay-at-home order. But viewed as the forest and not as the trees, the dearth of toilet paper is representative of a new graph. When the day arrives and my friend goes to Morton's and emerges with only a belly full of beef and beer, and when my neighbor goes to Publix and finds Snuggle bears staring back at her, then we will know the curve has been flattened and the Beast has been thwarted. 

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Joanne Lewis Blog