Yet are people overreacting and panic buying? Or is stocking up on essentials a smart move?
Reasons to prepare and reasons not to hoard
The bottom line is: The spread of COVID-19 in the United States is going to get worse before it gets better, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told "Good Morning America."
He said physically separating people is an effective way to prevent a quick, dramatic spike in infections, and residents in affected areas in New York City and the elderly are urged to avoid public gatherings. He also pointed out that a great deal of uncertainty looms over this pandemic.
Therefore, the federal government advises Americans to prepare for a pandemic by storing a two-week supply of food and water.
This, however, does not mean items should be hoarded, especially items that are unlikely to suffer from a shortage, according to Jay Zagorsky, a researcher at Boston University's Questrom School of Business.
"Modern economies run on trust and confidence," he said. "COVID-19 is breaking down that trust. People are losing confidence that they will be able to go outside and get what they need when they need it. This leads to hoarding items like toilet paper."
This hoarding is rooted in a "zero risk bias," in which "people prefer to try to eliminate one type of possibly superficial risk entirely rather than do something that would reduce their total risk by a greater amount," he said.
RELATED: Symptoms, prevention, and how to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak in the US
Here's what items you should have at home during a pandemic:
Food and water: Within this two-week supply, health experts recommend stocking up on food that is healthy and long-lasting, according to ABC News. This includes:
Do not hesitate to reach for a treat! Dark chocolate will stay good for up to two years.
And don't forget about your pets.
Prescription drugs: Make sure to have a continuous supply of regular prescription drugs. Those at serious risk should consider using mail-order for medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The government also urges people to have copies and maintain electronic versions of health records.
Consider special needs such as allergies, medical conditions such as diabetes, babies who might need ready-to-feed formula and toddlers who might need shelf-stable milk.
Other household items: Keep cleaning supplies on hand. Clean things that are touched a lot -- countertops, light switches, doorknobs, cabinet handles -- daily using ordinary detergent and water, the CDC advises.
Have a plan: Though this is not a physical item, the CDC is urging people to have a plan in case an outbreak occurs in their communities.
Since older adults and those who have underlying chronic medical conditions are at the greatest risk, families with these members should consult their health care providers and continue to monitor their symptoms.
This is also a great time to get to know neighbors and discuss emergency planning.