Isolation in History

Social isolation has happened before, and it appears we have failed to teach this in history classes. The great influenza pandemic of 1917-18 (misnomered the Spanish Flu) caused immense suffering. It is a part of my family’s history with the loss of my mother’s paternal grandparents (my great grandparents), leaving my grandfather and his sisters orphaned. During that time, counties and towns which practiced social isolation learned that it worked to stop the spread of the disease. Events were cancelled. Schools were closed.

When the 1916 polio epidemic hit, people for the mountains for fresh air. While the death toll was not high, children were more vulnerable. Polio tended to spread every summer well into the 1950s. Swimming pools were closed, and people were warned not to go to beaches or amusement parks. And if the initial infection didn’t kill a person, it might cut their life short from complications as with a family friend who died at the young age of 39. The world changed when vaccines were widely administered for polio, as well as other infectious diseases.

In both WW1 and WW2, people endured social isolation from curfews and blackouts in coastal areas, and even inland. My paternal grandfather served in the 60th Company Coastal Artillery at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro and the danger was taken seriously. The need for blackouts was much greater in Europe, but we had to be ready in the U.S. and its territories.

We must remember the Ebola virus in Africa was contained because travel was restricted, sanitation measures were taken, schools were closed, and these measure worked.

The coronavirus has proven itself a worthy and virulent infectious foe. I hope we never see the day again when a pandemic wipes out 50 million people, and we don’t have to. Sanitation and isolation must be taken seriously to slow the spread.

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