Interesting that the year that carries the name of perfect vision (2020) has been a year in which it has been so difficult to focus. As much as this COVID-19 pandemic has surprised us all, historians say that (1) very little is new and (2) many of today’s methods of fighting the pandemic are ones we learned centuries ago.
The first quarantine was imposed during the Bubonic Plague in 1377. Quarantine comes from the Italian word quarantina which means “approximately 40” which back then was the number of days deemed a safe period to isolate oneself from others carrying the disease.
Socially distant food and drink pick up was practiced during the Italian Plague of 1630, with wealthy citizens of Tuscany selling the contents of their wine cellars through buchette del vino or wine windows cut into the walls of their basements to enable the passing of wine out to paying customers on the street. Apparently vinegar was used as a disinfectant for the money taken in payment. Many of these wine windows have been put back into service, 400 years after their creation, to serve customers wine and coffee during the COVID pandemic.
Washing hands to reduce disease spread may be a common practice now but was a bit of a novelty100 years ago. First floor bathrooms or powder rooms became popular as a way to protect families from germs brought in to the home by guests and delivery people. Germs had only been discovered in the mid 1800’s by researchers like Louis Pasteur and hand washing was put into practice as a preventive measure.
Masks were made mandatory in San Francisco during the Spanish Influenza of 1918, Not wearing a mask in public was made a criminal offense punishable with fines and even imprisonment. Offender’s names were published in the newspaper as being “mask slackers” in an effort to bring public pressure to bear. Many masks worn by doctors were fashioned with long beaks to create distance between doctor and patient. Although these didn’t keep people 6’ apart, it was a start on today’s social distancing.
Even as far back as 1665, students were sent home from school to lessen exposure and disease transmission. Young Isaac Newton, having been sent home from Cambridge University during an outbreak of the bubonic plague, spent time on the family farm during which he witnessed the apple falling from a tree that caused him to identify the force of gravity. In the 19th and 20th centuries through outbreaks of Tuberculosis, Polio, and Spanish Flu, the concept of open air schools was used to get children out of less sanitary densely populated housing situations into well ventilated airy environments for their health. A different type of distance learning, to be sure.
In 2020, we have the Internet which has allowed working from home, remote learning , and made the process of quarantine somewhat easier though certainly not perfect. We have tremendous availability of information that we have never had in the past. Most of the information in this article was harvested off the Internet (thank you History Channel) with extreme ease and health safety. The internet is surely a two-edged sword that can cut both ways. Along with the benefits, we have the risks. The amount of misinformation that is circulated daily, the rumors, the cyber attacks, the made up facts that aren’t even close to true, are all part of a very sharp back edge of that sword. The constant barrage of 24 hour “news”, true or made up, has created panics that have brought us shortages of everything from toilet paper to pressure treated lumber. The internet has no polygraph component that can register what is true and what is not. Everyone is left to their own conclusion and their own confusion as they are under a steady barrage from social media, the news media, and the carefully crafted stream of advertising that is increasingly tailored to us as individual users of the Internet. Some of the wild swings of different markets have surely been inflated by the Internet fire hose from which we drink.
Just as the doctor would preach moderation in anything from calorie intake to every other bad habit we may have, think about how you flatten the peaks of your own information overload. If you find yourself being pulled onto the emotional roller coaster by your beeping cell phone, create yourself some space, put down your device, take a walk around the neighborhood, get some exercise, and then get some rest. This too shall pass and it’s up to us to stay in good shape for the next chapter. Stay healthy, my friends!