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Chlorine Is the New Toilet Paper

At the height of the pandemic and Gov. Cooper’s draconian shutdown of North Carolina’s economy, finding a store with toilet paper on the shelf was cause for celebration. The supply chain was reeling from the sudden surge in demand by a fearful public forced out of our jobs and into our homes.

Just when I felt proud of myself for successfully navigating the toilet paper scavenger hunt, another item proved elusive. There was a day when I drove to three different stores looking for Clorox wipes. I struck out, settling for an off brand that assured me it killed 99% of everything bad. Those giant words on the label were good enough for me. I bought two – the limit imposed by the store – and was happy to take the killer wipes home to my door knobs and countertops.

That was 2020.

In 2021, things are vastly different. I’m vaccinated against COVID-19, and so are millions of other North Carolinians. I’ve accepted the death of my father-in-law from COVID-19 and can now talk about him without crying. Life is returning to its pre-2020 normal. And with it all, the dynamics of our economy have flipped as well.

#1 – More vaccine than we know what to do with
Thanks to former President Trump and Operation Warp Speed, multiple COVID-19 vaccines are available. Anyone 16 or older who wants one can get one – sometimes with no appointment necessary and sometimes with no waiting. Supply has not only caught up with demand, supply now outpaces demand. Some states are even  offering ‘cash for jabs’ – incentives to get vaccinated. Let’s hope North Carolina doesn’t go there. As Route Fifty reports:

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice unveiled plans this week to give $100 savings bonds—or possibly $100 checks—to state residents ages 16 to 35 who get shots. The payments would even be retroactive for people vaccinated before the program was announced, he said.

Neighboring Kentucky is also considering a perk program, Gov. Andy Beshear said. Businesses are already offering vaccine incentives to people in the state ranging from cash, to doughnuts, to discounted sports tickets, according to local news reports.

In Detroit, the city will hand out $50 prepaid debit cards to residents who register for a program to drive other community members to select vaccination sites run by the city’s health department. “There shouldn’t be a single barrier for any Detroiter to get a vaccination, and certainly not transportation,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement.

#2 – Not enough chlorine for all the swimming pools
Public health officials and shutdown authoritarians told people to stay home and take a break in the back yard, but nowhere else. Well, we did. A lot of those backyards apparently had pools. Now people are readying for the 2021 pool season – and guess what? Chlorine is the new toilet paper. CNBC reports:

A combination of factors has led to the scarcity, including an unprecedented surge in demand last year and a chemical plant fire, which destroyed some manufacturing capacity.

“We started buying early, way early, and stockpiled as much as we could,” said Allan Curtis. “We won’t last more than probably mid-May, or late May, and we’ll be out of chlorine.”

His pool maintenance business, Ask the Pool Guy, services 1,000 customers near Howell, Michigan. He’s worked in the industry for 34 years, and this is the first time he’s stockpiling chlorine.

#3 – Where are all the rental cars?
Demand for rental cars plummeted in 2020 and rental companies responded. They sold excess inventory. But now, as businessinsider.com reports, the traveling public is ready to hit the road.

Hot tourist locations in Hawaii, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, and Puerto Rico are being hit by what some are calling a “car-rental apocalypse.”

Two or three years ago, the average car rental in Hawaii cost about $50 a day. Now some rental cars are going for over $500 a day, Jonathan Weinberg, the founder and CEO of AutoSlash, told Insider. In extreme cases, prices have risen to $700 a day, more than doubling 2019’s numbers, Chris Woronka, a senior hotel-and-leisure analyst at Deutsche Bank, told Insider.

#4 – Entrepreneurs are emerging again
With the return to normal near, opportunity to deliver on consumer demand is coming into focus. Travel is readying to bounce back, and rental car companies aren’t the only service line on the cusp of a dramatic shift. To accommodate the anticipated surge, more than 90 new airlines are set to take to the air, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

Some of the upstarts are emerging from the ashes of airlines that failed during the pandemic. Others have been waiting for air travel to show signs of recovery so they can activate plans that were already in place. Most are hoping that they can seize the chance to pick up heavily discounted aircraft, snap up coveted space at once-congested airports and in some cases, hire laid-off pilots and flight attendants.

Our economy is dynamic and ever-changing to the twists and turns of consumer behavior. In 2020, it was a public health crisis that changed it all. But before the pandemic, and after, this is how the marketplace works. And this is why I have such respect for the men and women who risk it all to find the emerging need and fill it. Entrepreneurs are dreamers and thinkers. The truly brilliant seem to know what we want before we even realize it.

Donna Martinez / Senior Writer and Editor

Donna came to the John Locke Foundation in January 2003 after freelance writing for Carolina Journal and contributing to projects for the North Carolina Education Alliance. He...