This is not the column I originally intended for this week, but these are unusual times – to say the least. We are in a worldwide pandemic for which there is no known cure yet. Everybody’s heard what we all need to do to stay safe – wash your hands a lot, keep your hands away from your face, don’t go where there are crowds, stay hydrated, and stay home if you can. Most of all don’t panic! We’ll get through this! We’ve been through worse things than this before. There are still people around who remember when Polio was rampant and recall that if you got Polio and survived it, you could be crippled for life! Fortunately, a vaccine was developed pretty quickly and everybody, especially children, was vaccinated and it worked. Kids today have never heard of Polio and it was a worldwide disease! My point is, we’ll get over the Coronavirus, too. And it will be American scientists who win this war!
Also, there is no need to become a hoarder of stuff. We don’t need a three month supply of toilet tissue. Use common sense about self-isolation. Just stay away from other people if you can until we’re told that it’s safe to congregate with others! Look at all the events that have already been cancelled or postponed. Who could have imagined that the NCAA basketball tournament would have been cancelled? If, on the other hand, you start to get cabin fever, take a walk in the fresh air or go for a drive.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last pandemic to sweep across the planet.
Here’s what Dave Roos recently wrote for The History Channel. He told the story of history’s five worst and how they ended. It’s important to remember that point – they all ended one way or another.
Three of the worst were caused by a single bacterium that caused a fatal infection known as the plague. The first was called the Plague of Justinian. “It arrived in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in 541 CE. It was carried over the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt, a recently conquered land paying tribute to Emperor Justinian in grain. Plague-ridden fleas hitched a ride on the black rats that snacked on the grain.”
“The plague decimated Constantinople and spread like wildfire across Europe, Asia, North Africa and Arabia killing an estimated 30 to 50 million people, perhaps half of the world’s population.”
But here’s the point, he plague never really went away and returned some 800 years later. The plague hit Europe around 1347 and claimed around 200 million lives in just four years. “As for how to stop the disease, people still had no scientific understanding of contagion, but they knew that it had something to do with proximity. That’s why forward-thinking officials in the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa decided to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation until they could prove they weren’t sick.”
“At first, sailors were held on their ships for 30 days, which became known in Venetian law as a trentino. As time went on, the Venetians increased the forced isolation to 40 days or a quarantino, the origin of the word quarantine and the start of its practice in the Western world.” As we can see, one of the earliest ways to prevent the spread of a disease is for people to stay away from each other.
“By the early 1500s, England imposed the first laws to separate and isolate the sick. Homes stricken by plague were marked with a bale of hay strung to a pole outside. If you had infected family members, you had to carry a white pole when you went out in public.
“The Great Plague of 1665 was the last and one of the worst of the centuries-long outbreaks, killing 100,000 Londoners in just seven months. All public entertainment was banned and victims were forcibly shut into their homes to prevent the spread of the disease. Red crosses were painted on their doors…”
The fourth great pandemic was smallpox, which we may have heard of but seldom hear about today. “Smallpox was endemic to Europe, Asia and Arabia for centuries, a persistent menace that killed three out of ten people it infected and left the rest with pockmarked scars. But the death rate in the Old World paled in comparison to the devastation wrought on native populations in the New World when the smallpox virus arrived in the 15th century with the first European explorers.”
The last of the five pandemics was cholera. “In the early-to mid-19th century, cholera tore through England, killing tens of thousands. The prevailing scientific theory of the day said that the disease was spread by foul air known as a ‘miasma’. But a British doctor named John Snow suspected that the mysterious disease, which killed its victims within days of the first symptoms, lurked in London’s drinking water. While cholera has largely been eradicated in developed countries, it’s still a persistent killer in third-world countries lacking adequate sewage treatment and access to clean drinking water.”
Clearly, we’re not facing anything as deadly as the plague, smallpox, or cholera and there’s no reason to suspect that we’re facing anything like them today. It’s just a matter of time before a cure is found for the coronavirus. While we wait, just follow the relatively simple guidelines about keeping your distance from others or, if you can, stay home. We’ll get through this. After all, we’re Americans – one family!
That’s—30—for this week and stay safe and wash your hands.