Why a warning to not panic buy turned into a run on fuel in NC

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Before the empty pumps across North Carolina came a run on gas. People panic-bought fuel even as local leaders claimed there was enough gas and to remain calm. One of their first warnings to the public early in the week was “don’t panic”.

Images have since circulated online of people filling up multiple gas cans and even trash bags with fuel.

CBS 17 asked Dr. Jonny Gerkin, an association clinical professor of at the UNC School of Medicine if the actions were based in selfishness or if there was something else at play.

“I guess you can frame it as selfishness in a way but there is also some brute neuroscience happening as well,” Gerkin said.

Gerkin said the voicing of a potential issue with fuel prompted people to think about the way they associate with it and how much they rely on it.

“In people’s minds, I don’t think they’re meaning to be selfish. Yet, they are thinking about their responsibilities and it’s really hard to resolve those worries without taking some sort of action,” Gerkin said.

That action, in this case, is stocking up on as much fuel as possible. Gerkin said what the public needed was a more balanced messaging.

“Something like ‘Hey, OK, get the gas you need. Don’t get more than you need because this looks like it’s going to be temporary,” Gerkin said.

What is being seen is similar to the run on toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. Gerkin said the two circumstances can’t be totally separated.

“All of us are in this mentality of well, what’s next? It’s harder to trust all the conveniences and infrastructure,” Gerkin said.

He said worry and concern are normal. It may be time to recycle some of the skills we started practicing in early days of COVID-19.

“Slowing down and zooming out and sort of determining what really is necessary here,” Gerkin said.

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