Unfamiliar Territory

Given the behavior of some people during this pandemic, it’s easy to believe the average American IQ has plummeted faster than the stock market. Licking deodorant, partying on beaches, crowding into bars and restaurants, all in naked defiance of medical professionals all over the world and local law. Crowing about it on the internet is just icing on the cake of stupid.

Consider, however, the relative absence of a real communicable disease event in the last 50 or so years. AIDS was terrible and claimed many victims but a cough, a sneeze, could not spread it to a room full of people. I think you have to go back to the days when polio was loose and there has not been a single case of polio in the US in over 40 years.

One hundred years ago the flu pandemic killed millions. But the physical and psychological reality of epidemics and pandemics were much more familiar to Americans in 1919. Diphtheria killed thousands in the 1920s. Typhoid killed thousands in 1906-07. Scarlet fever ran rampant in 1858. Between 1832 and 1856, cholera swept the country, killing over 8,000 people in St. Louis in 1849. Imagine how differently you would think and behave if you had been born in 1850 and died in 1925? In your 75 years you would have known about six different deadly epidemics and possibly lived through a few. Your parents would have known all about yellow fever. Their parents might have carried smallpox scars. Tuberculosis or “consumption” was a common killer during all those years too.

There is no excuse for the ridiculous antics and mindless scoffing of the last couple of weeks but the fact is we suffer from a huge blind spot. Three generations of Americans have grown up in the age of vaccines. Heart disease, cancer and accidents are the three leading causes of death in the US and have been for decades. My kids grew up more concerned about someone shooting up their school than dying of a virus.

What does all this mean? I think it means we have to lead by example and only share real information. We have to take this situation seriously and insist that others do too. We have to stay informed and apply “best practices.” That’s a term 21st century Americans should know.

Here is a bit of epidemic/library trivia: a new Pataskala Public Library building was supposed to open in 1968. That was delayed after it was discovered some of the books in the new facility had been donated from the Newark Public Schools and there were several cases of polio in the district that year. The books were identified and isolated long enough for the bug to die. How do I know this? I ran that library for 15 years and read all about it in Board minutes. The Library did open, just a little later than expected. We will open too. Life will definitely go on.