I deal in hope : Carolyn R Scheidies

Blog Restrictions, quarantines not new to epidemics

The Coronavirus has taken the world by storm. While many are scarcely affected, others, such as the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, are dying. After seeing how some countries didn’t take the spread seriously enough and were overrun with cases, President Trump chose to get ahead of the virus spread with a task force and a checklist that included frequent hand washing, social distancing and self-quarantine. 

Nursing homes went in lock down mode. Schools went to online learning situations, Those who could work from home were asked to do so. Medical personnel became immersed in learning all they could about the virus, how to diagnose and treat it. 

Those who understand how one person can infect many others have stayed home both not to infect and to not be infected. Quarantines slow down the spread of the virus. But, this method of stopping the virus didn’t start with the Coronavirus. 

Even the term “quarantine” began during the Black Death that killed so many in Europe in cycles starting in the 14th century. According to the article Black Death facts: your guide to “the worst catastrophe in recorded history”, the term “quarantine” first came into the culture in Venice early 15th century with a 40 day imposed isolation, though the town of Ragusa had already imposed a 30 day isolation period.They did much more to keep out those beyond their borders that impacted the severity of the plague both in the 14 and 15th centuries. 

When in 1527 a plague devastated Wittenberg where the reformer Martin Luther lived, he answered a friend’s question about how to deal with the plague in the following letter found in his works Volume 43, Pg. 132: Whether One Should Flee From A Deadly Plague. Luther wrote, 

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above.” Doesn’t sound much different from what we’re asked to do today. 

The spread of the deadly Spanish Flu in 1918-19 coincided with World War I. An estimated 50-100 million persons died world wide with 675,000 of these in the USA. The article  A Pandemic And A Parade: What 1918 tells us about flattening the curve reveals the results of how two American cities handled the warnings of the Spanish flu.

 Philadelphia ignored warnings. Instead they had a huge parade with veterans, Boy Scouts and other groups marching down the street. Some 200,000 persons lined the streets. The parade was to promote the purchase of Liberty Loans to help pay for the war. Three days later not a hospital bed was to be had. Finally the city closed down, but it was two late. Some 4,500 people died. 

St. Lewis heeded the warnings. With just two cases diagnosed, St. Louis closed down schools, churches and public gatherings of more than 20 persons. There were still cases and people died, but the quarantine did it’s job. The sick didn’t overwhelm the hospitals and the city had many fewer casualties than Philadelphia.

You may think the advice for social distancing and self-quarantining is overblown, but history has shown that it saves lives. Consider your actions in light of the babies and little ones, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Taking precautions may save more than one life. Isn’t that worth a bit of inconvenience and patience for now?

© 2020 Carolyn R Scheidies
Published Kearney Hub 4/20/2020

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