naysayers, doomsayers and those who find “lessons learned” in history

They’re all over the park.

The opinions that so many willfully ply on facebook pages. Their opinions are frequently politicized — voicing some of the most outlandish and mindless claptrap. There are other who appear to have lost their senses as they build up stocks of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and gawd-knows-what in the hopes of staving off the pandemic.

Fortunately, though there are those who find more credibility about hazards unknown by applying previous experience, education and “lessons learned” to their preparedness inventory. Firefighters do this. Engineers do this. Police officers do this. All prudent persons do this.

The world has seen outbreaks of pandemic before — and will again.

1918 pandemicRed Cross workers removing bundles of masks for American soldiers from table where other women are busily engaged in making them, Boston, Massachusetts, 1918. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images) PHOTOQUEST/GETTY IMAGES

This Boston Globe article, “100 years ago, another epidemic terrorized the city: Boston’s reaction to a dangerous virus hasn’t changed much in a century: A narrative of the Spanish flu in the city where it began,” is a reminder. The Great Pandemic of 1918-1919 not only terrorized Boston, it ravaged the world.

Almost everything about that pandemic is happening today: disbelief, political downplaying, denial, the spread of the virus. The only difference now appears to be the virulence of it. But viruses continually learn to change in order to continue living.

Some people do, too.


by Dugan Arnett

As August 1918 wound to a close in Boston and summer’s dog days gave way to fall, the city was awash in optimism.

“The Allies’ great offensive to end the horrific war in Europe was succeeding, meaning the young sons and husbands who’d been fighting overseas might soon be returning home. The Red Sox, led by burly slugger Babe Ruth, would soon be playing for their fifth World Series title. And a new school year was rounding finely into form.

“It was ‘old-time America at its nostalgic best,’ says Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. ‘All wonderful, good stuff.’

So when, in late August, a handful of sailors stationed at Commonwealth Pier in what is now the South Boston Seaport fell terribly ill, no one in the city paid much mind.”

“Avoidance of crowded cars, elevators, or buildings is recommended. Common drinking cups or towels should be taboo. Care should be taken against spreading of the disease through sneezing or coughing by infected persons: the handkerchief should be used in these emergencies.” — The Boston Globe, Sept. 11, 1918

“I encourage everyone to follow steps to prevent the spread of infection. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, stay home if you’re feeling sick, and cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.” — Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Twitter, March 9, 2020

Entering the final week of September, public officials began taking steps to effectively close down the city.

“On Sept. 26, almost a month to the day after the first case surfaced, Boston’s newly appointed health commissioner, William Woodward, a Georgetown-educated physician who’d been instrumental in the fight against typhoid fever a decade earlier, imposed a so-called “gathering ban,” closing down all theaters, soda shops, and saloons until the epidemic could be controlled. Many schools had already been shuttered, and most churches, if they hadn’t already, soon followed suit.

“By that point, the situation had grown so dire that local officials discussed — and later implemented — a restriction on visitors at the funerals of those who’d died of Spanish flu.”

“In Washington, D.C., Senator John Weeks of Massachusetts asked Congress for $1,000,000 to help stop the flu’s spread. ‘Tens of thousands of people in New England are affected, with hospitals full to overrunning, no nurses available, and doctors worked as near 24 hours a day as is humanly possible,’ Weeks pleaded.”

So on Oct. 21, when the city announced it would officially emerge from its self-quarantine with the reopening of saloons, soda shops, and schools, residents could barely contain their glee.

The news in that day’s Globe trumpeted the city’s grand reopening.

“’It is anticipated that today and tonight will be just like a happy holiday in Boston,’ the story said, ‘with great crowds of residents and visitors abroad.’

“The excitement would prove premature; a few weeks later, a jubilant gathering of thousands celebrating the end of the war would spark another round of illness. Hundreds more would die, pushing the toll in Boston to more than 6,000 by midway through the next year, and some 675,000 nationwide. Across the world, an estimated 50 to 100 million people would die from the Spanish flu or resulting pneumonia.”

For an in-depth understanding of the 1918-1919 Pandemic, read the John M. Barry book, The Great Influenza.

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