Fear? Or, Caution and Respect?

Call the email exchange spirited. Each side marshalled evidence in the form of research. I was one side of the two-sided correspondence.

I don’t fear Covid-19, per se. I do take precautions; I have tried to learn from the missteps of the Pandemic of 1918. I respect the fact that Covid-19 has done tremendous damage; and will, or can, do a whole lot more as the season changes.

People have grown tired of the lockdowns. I get it. But too many are ignoring health warnings. Why is it so hard to understand, for example, that a face mask goes over one’s nose? Why do people think because they are outside, the danger is non-existent? Social distancing exists for a reason, and recent research questions whether six-feet is enough distance.

The biggest frustration I see, however, is among people with children. There is a palpable anger over the fact that schools aren’t open and back to normal.

It appears when it comes to Covid-19, there is a growing, yet dangerous, attitude which looks like this:

That’s how the email conversation started. The correspondent’s basic premise was, decisions about opening schools should be made with local data and nothing more. If a local community does not have a cluster of illnesses among children, and no community children have died since March, why keep schools closed?

For me, it’s the potential of illness and death. I noted I would rather err on the side of the greater good. We know children are asymptomatic carriers. A study out of Georgia shows just how rapidly Covid-19 can spread from asymptomatic children. One death from Covid-19 connected to the reopening schools is concerning for me. The emotional toll would be enormous.

But there are other dangers to Covid-19; it can leave behind long-lasting health problems. The term for people suffering from those potentially long-lasting effects are called long haulers. I noted for my correspondent that football players at Ohio State who had weathered the virus showed signs of lasting heart problems. There is also research showing some people post Covid-19 have significant neuro-psych issues.

But since my correspondent saw none of these problems close to home, they shouldn’t impact local decision-making.

Essentially the exchange ended as an agree to disagree détente; but the exchange obviously still troubles me.

To be charged with fear-mongering during a pandemic is quite unsettling. And, the correspondent told me it was troubling to know I was guided by the utilitarian theory of the greater good. How could that be troubling? How could watching out for the health and safety of students; and all those who come in contact with students; be troubling; or even as implied, amoral?

I referenced the Pandemic of 1918. People also became complacent. Undoubtedly, the complacency then, and now, stems from people growing weary of being locked down and having to wear masks. But, we need only to look to history, and what happened in Philadelphia, to know that we should be cautious, and respect the potential that Covid-19 can come roaring back this fall.

The first cases of influenza in Philadelphia appeared on September 7, [1918] when sailors from Boston arrived in the naval yard. By early October, hospital beds in Philadelphia were full, public meetings and church services were banned, schools were closed, and there was a severe shortage of coffins. Beginning in September 1918 and until spring of 1919, the weekly number of influenza-related deaths in Philadelphia dropped below three figures only once. In October alone, over 11,000 Philadelphians died from influenza.

By the end of October, public services and meetings, including school and church, were re-opened. In early November, influenza in Philadelphia had reached its peak and the number of deaths slowly declined. A reported 12,162 people had died by November 2, 1918. The end of the second wave for most American cities, including Philadelphia, came in mid-November. Philadelphia had a small resurgence during the third and final wave during February 1919. By the end of the pandemic, a huge number of people had died. A general estimate for the total number of deaths is 50 million, though estimates range from as low as 25 million to as high as 100 million deaths worldwide. Over 1.5 million of these deaths were in the United States. Whichever way the true numbers run, the loss of life is truly astounding.


And one of the reasons for the resurgence in Philadelphia was due to an event called the Liberty Loan parade.

 To bolster morale and support the war effort, a procession for the ages brought together marching bands, Boy Scouts, women’s auxiliaries, and uniformed troops to promote Liberty Loans –government bonds issued to pay for the war. The day would be capped off with a concert led by the “March King” himself –John Philip Sousa.


Pandemic weary Philadelphians flocked to the event and the consequences were great, indeed.

The parade became an opportunity for mass infection. Within days, influenza had become so widespread that Philadelphia and state officials essentially shuttered the city. By the third week of October influenza, or “the grippe” as it was called by many, had afflicted tens of thousands of people and claimed the lives of more than 4,500 Philadelphians.

Few American cities were hit harder.

“The Liberty Loan decision was one in a series of decisions that, I think, contributed to the death toll,” said historian John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza.” “When you mix politics and science, you get politics.”


And it didn’t take long for people to become infected and die.

Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled. In the week ending October 5, some 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from the flu or its complications. A week later, that number rose to more than 4,500. With many of the city’s health professionals pressed into military service, Philadelphia was unprepared for this deluge of death.


So, label me an amoral, fear monger; but, I have been reading the Covid-19 research and pandemic history since March of this year. I suggested to my correspondent that maybe the lack of illness in our community was due to the precautions in effect, including opening schools with remote learning. And, testing that hypothesis was not something I was willing to do.

We certainly are living in interesting (and frustrating) times; although my correspondent insisted these are not unprecedented times–we’ve apparently seen worse. I don’t know; these last six months have felt unprecedented to me.

And by the way, the phrase: May you live in interesting times is not a curse. Just ask the Quote Investigator.

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