Most of us have returned, to some degree, to our pre-pandemic lifestyles. Masks lie dormant in drawers, we stand in line at Starbucks or the grocery store check-out line closer than six feet to folks ahead of us, we socialize with family and friends, and communicate in person with co-workers.
Yet the pandemic cloud still hangs over us, especially if we live in states with skyrocketing cases.
Plagues, epidemics, pandemics, killer diseases that sweep through populations, are not new to history, the Black Death of the Middle Ages the most famous. Historians believe it the most devastating, killing world-wide 50 to 200 million people, including one third to over one half the population of Europe. The continent did not recover for decades; some places did not reach pre-plague populations for over two centuries.
Seven hundred years later…The COVID-19 pandemic ravages around the world. I get pissed, angry, annoyed, when someone says, “I won’t get the vaccine,” and proceeds to enumerate one, two, or more excuses why – most centered on wrong and misleading information. I ask myself: Why do you need a person close to you to get very sick and/or die before getting the vaccine?
The Black Death began somewhere in Asia and reached Europe when a Mongol army besieged Caffa, a town in the Ukraine on the Crimean peninsula. (This is a theory; no one knows for certain how the plague reached Europe.) The Black Death swept through the Mongol camps. The army threw their corpses inside the town. The plague spread across the city, and then throughout Europe. The worst plague years were 1347-1351, but sporadic outbreaks struck for centuries.
As the plague spread throughout Europe, the town of Ragusa in Croatia (Dubrovnik), in an attempt to protect their citizens, required travelers from plague regions to isolate for thirty days. The restriction increased to forty days, and thus the term quarantine entered our lexicon, quarantine the Italian word for forty (quaranta).
Not everyone got sick in Europe, and not everyone died, but a lot of people did. Why take the chance with COVID?
The Black Death resulted in negative mindsets and actions. The cause of the plague? ‘Bad airs’, witches, astrology, unusual alignment of three planets. (The plague is caused by a bacteria spread via fleas, rats and other animals.) Christians blamed Moslems, Moslems blamed Christians, and everyone blamed Jews. Riots killed thousands of Jews throughout Europe. Social unrest resulted in peasant revolts against political leaders.
Political unrest…erroneous and misinformation…economic turmoil…sound familiar?
On the other hand…historians enumerate positive outcomes of the epidemic. Due to a worker shortage, wages rose and workers began to assert their rights. Folks previously blocked from entree to good-paying occupations, found employment. A population able to afford more than the necessities arose – the middle class. A new approach to life, centered on life and not death, entered people’s consciousness. The Renaissance started. The end of the plague jump-started manufacturing and modern medicine.
The Black Death lasted five years. The current pandemic, around for over a year and a half, has not abated. Society and modern medicine have the means to curtail the madness. Unfortunately medieval mentalities and disinformation remain as strong as ever today.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. – Bertrand Russell