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Hoarding toilet paper, washing groceries, and baking bread: Remembering trends from the early days of COVID-19

Let’s take a pandemic walk down memory lane because hindsight is 2020.

Shoppers stocked up on staples, including toilet paper, bottled water, diapers, and canned goods in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

2020 was a weird year for us all. The coronavirus pandemic upended lives in Boston and across the world. US deaths have surpassed an unfathomable one million.

For the first time, many people added words like “social distancing,” “super-spreader,” and “isolation” to their everyday vocabulary.

Zoom skyrocketed in popularity as schools, workplaces, and social interactions shifted online to prevent the spread of the virus, and people scrambled to keep themselves occupied to ward off cabin fever. Today, more than two years following the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve mastered some ways to keep the virus at bay while staying entertained. Now, it’s clear that two years ago our strategies weren’t the best, because hindsight is 2020.


Here’s a look back at some of the bizarre, random, and quirky trends and activities people did during the early months of the pandemic.

Tell us about your own favorite early pandemic rite in the survey at the bottom of this story.

Washing groceries

When people first caught wind of the new, elusive virus quickly plaguing the world, many took extreme precaution to sanitize everything they touched, and groceries were no exception. Washing fresh produce is standard practice after a trip to the supermarket, but in 2020, people took that principle to the new lengths, and thoroughly sanitized every grocery item they bought.


Everybody wash your groceries stay safe #covid19 #coronavirus

♬ original sound - Tom Green

Hoarding toilet paper

In preparation for lockdowns that had no end in sight, customers swarmed supermarkets and convenience stores, completely emptying the shelves of household items, namely toilet paper. Now, we can look back on ourselves and laugh. But in the moment, customers followed their primal instincts to secure as much bath tissue as possible.

Making do-it-yourself hand sanitizer

Like toilet paper, hand sanitizer became a hot commodity in 2020. When the product was hard to come by in stores, people got creative and learned how to make it themselves at home. Tutorials on how to make the most effective hand sanitizer to combat the spread of COVID-19 racked up hundreds of thousands of views on social media platforms like TikTok. The Food and Drug Administration has since warned against using DIY hand sanitizers, saying it could be ineffective and even lead to burns if made incorrectly.


Baking bread

Hand sanitizer wasn’t the only thing people made from scratch throughout 2020. Long-lasting lockdowns provided people with more free time than what they knew to do with. As a result, many experimented with their cooking skills. A popular dish during those days was banana bread, as well as sourdough starter and loaves from scratch.

Many people confined to their homes during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic got baking sourdough bread.JOHNNY MILLER/NYT

Adopting a pet

Social isolation created by the pandemic left many people in need of a companion. Sure, we had technology like FaceTime, Zoom, and text messaging that allowed us to stay in contact with friends and family, but there’s nothing quite like interacting with loved ones in person. So it was no surprise that many people welcomed new pets into their household, most notably giving rise to a whole generation of dogs referred to as “pandemic puppies,” who are now around two years old.

Becoming a plant parent

The pandemic was an opportune time for many to fine-tune their skills or develop a new hobby entirely. A popular choice was to become a plant caretaker or gardener. Those who have never hand-watered a plant in their lives suddenly became horticultural enthusiasts with thumbs as green of the leaves that populated their homes.


Going for walks

With almost all gyms, restaurants, and businesses closed indefinitely, people were eager to find ways to pass the time at the beginning of the pandemic. Many families resorted to the hobbies of their 19th-century ancestors by going for a good old fashioned stroll. Taking walks was a common way for people to safely interact with others in passing while getting some fresh air and appreciating nature through light exercise.

Trying at-home workout videos

Many embraced the beginning of the pandemic as an opportunity for self-improvement. The time had finally come for some people to fit working out into their schedules because, probably for the first time in their lives, there was literally nothing else to do. YouTubers like Chloe Ting became popular for their workout videos that made becoming fit feel attainable without going to the gym. And in 2020, that was just what people needed.

Greeting people with our elbows

Before people were better protected with COVID-19 vaccinations, the scientific community suggested people avoid greeting each other with hugs, hand-shaking, or other greetings requiring close contact. So people normalized alternatives that included elbow-tapping, footshakes, air high-fives, or a simple wave. The elbow bump even now remains a popular greeting.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker elbow bumped Samantha Pearl Georges, 6, after swearing in her father Serge Georges, Jr. as an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court at the State House on Dec.16, 2020.Nancy Lane/Pool

Online Shopping

At the beginning of the pandemic, places like shopping malls were considered COVID-19 breeding grounds. So anyone who needed their fair share of retail therapy turned to online shopping. Soon enough, people adapted and bought anything they needed from e-commerce sites like Amazon or eBay. Even now, shopping malls remain the less attractive shopping alternative.


For many, the beginning of the pandemic may be a time they’d rather forget. Despite the all the confusion, fear, and trauma COVID-19 has caused, it also fostered a set of peculiar and unique memories that social media will help us remember for years to come.

What is your favorite behavior or rite from the early days of the pandemic? Tell us about it in the survey below.

Katie Mogg can be reached at katie.mogg@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @j0urnalistkatie