Oh. . .how does one begin? Maybe it’s this, “I’m seeing history repeat itself.” Or, how about, “Plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
As news of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, inundates the airwaves, Internet and newspapers, starting with either makes sense.
How is history repeating itself?
From time to time, an illness threatens human beings to the core. The plague is one example. Flu is another.
There has always been fear in medical circles of another flu pandemic severely impacting life all around the world. The flu epidemic of 2018 stretched Midwest Medical Center to its limits, as it did many other hospitals, large and small.
The flu pandemic of 1918-19 has come to my mind a lot lately as COVID-19 transports itself around the world with its human carriers.
The carnage of this pandemic 100 years ago is recorded by historians and the written words of the time. An estimated 100 million people died from the flu; 675,000 died in the United States.
My grandfather served in the army in World War I. Stationed in France, he suffered from the flu and was so grateful to another soldier who shared his blanket.
Galenian Lyall Eggleston died from influenza in the early days of the pandemic. The uncle of Janet and Julie Eggleston, it is believed that he was the first Galenian to die from this pesky virus.
Lyall was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Station when he became ill. Sailors and soldiers in close quarters throughout the world became carriers of the virus.
So many people died so fast that an observer at Ft. Devens in Massachusetts described the dead being stacked up like cords of wood. Nurses in this military facilities worked 16 hours a day caring for the sick.
The commandant of Camp Grant in Rockford, no longer able to withstand the pressure of the flu amongst his troops, put a gun to his head and killed himself.
The flu strain from this pandemic, H1N1, is often called the Spanish Flu, because many thought it started there. Many now believe this pandemic started in rural Kansas, spread to the military and then to the entire world.
Some, caught in the midst of the pandemic, thought human life might end.
So is history repeating itself?
It is. . .in a sense.
The words used in newspapers of the day and by officials back then are eerily similar to those used today.
Over and over one reads these words about the pandemic, “while not of a serious nature.” But, in the next sentence might be prohibitions regarding spitting or a new regulation requesting that theater owners deny entrance to anyone with “a so-called cold” and that anyone afflicted be isolated.
In this past week’s Gazette was this sentence, “The virus is not spreading widely in the U.S. Risk to the general public remains low.”
Newspapers from 1918-19 are filled with similarly written sentences.
There was an attempt those many years ago not to scare the public and spread the notion that tomorrow would be better. However, for weeks on end, everything went from bad to worse. In hindsight, the public should have been scared as hell, because of the misery inflicted on many by influenza.
COVID-19 is not influenza. It’s a strain of a coronavirus Dr. Dennis Irwin, Galena, a retired internist, explained at Rotary last Friday. Some colds are caused by a strain of coronavirus.
COVID-19 started in China, he continued, and is thought to have originated in a bat species and spread to the human population. This virus is highly contagious, which has medical authorities throughout the world concerned.
Today’s population is highly mobile and transports itself on airplanes, cars, boats, trains and other modes of transportation near and far. Controlling the spread of a highly contagious virus is impossible.
Dennis said over and over again this simple way to protect yourself: wash your hands frequently. Soap is the best.
Dennis also advised that if you use hand sanitizer, use hand sanitizer that has 60 percent ethyl alcohol.
He also suggested that you limit touching your face with your hands, which is a difficult thing to do when most of us have a habit of touching our face 20 times per hour. The other night I woke up with my hands on my face, I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t be doing that.” Oh, the bad things you do when sleeping.
Clean surfaces frequently, he also advised.
If you are around someone who is coughing, stay six feet away, he continued.
If you are coughing, he says wear a mask, because it prevents the water droplets from spreading. If you aren’t sick, you don’t need the mask.
These are important ways to be personally responsible and to be prepared.
From 1918-19, the medical community and public officials learned the necessity of being prepared. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best...
When it comes to alerting and informing the public, there is this questioning process as to how much is shared and when. The fear is creating too much fear and panic among the general population. Crying “wolf” can cause plenty of damage and confusion.
According to The New York Times, the Trump White House team has been debating and discussing this very issue for weeks. It’s a very real concern to all.
In the long run, I think we are all better off being well-informed in an honest and open way. It’s been proven that hiding or downplaying the impact of a public health emergency doesn’t work and only fosters contempt or creates feelings of distrust. Just look at what’s happened in Iran with the virus.
COVID-19 is not the fault of President Donald Trump. (It isn’t Barack Obama’s fault either.) Our leaders do have the responsibility of being open and honest with the American people and ensuring that the governmental machine is there to serve as this virus works its way through the population.
As was H1N1 100 years ago, COVID-19 is a very democratic virus. It afflicts all regardless of ethnicity or station in life.
This contagious virus may very well impact many in this community in the weeks and months ahead. The virus is now in Chicago and we have a close connection to Chicago thanks to our tourism industry here.
No one wants this to happen. But, being prepared is important, and I’m so grateful community leaders met last Thursday to discuss and plan.
As for The Galena Gazette, we will endeavor to provide truthful, fair and timely information about COVID-19 on the pages of this newspaper and our website, galenagazette.com. Our goal is to try and do this by being sensible and not sensational.
On our website, this information will be placed outside of the paywall so all can freely access the information.
The spread of COVID-19 throughout the population is deserving of your time and attention. Paying attention to the details–washing your hands frequently, keeping surfaces clean and staying six feet away from people coughing and sneezing–are ways you can play a role for the betterment of yourself and those around you.
And, if you have symptoms of this virus–fever, cough, aches and pains or shortness of breath–stay home. You’re not going to get better at work and you might likely infect all those around you. If you need medical help, call your healthcare provider.
COVID-19 is serious business and needs and deserves serious attention.
by P. Carter Newton,