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My parents’ generation has some badly needed perspective. My father commented recently, after I told him I was recovering from whooping cough*, that he and his generation went through every disease my generation was inoculated against: mumps, measles, chicken pox, and German measles. Oh, and they had to dodge polio, against which we were inoculated. And there were bad flu seasons.
A writer in City Journal has now spoken that wisdom in “Say Your Prayers and Take Your Chances: Remembering the 1957 Asian flu pandemic:”
For those who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, there was nothing unusual about finding yourself threatened by contagious disease. Mumps, measles, chicken pox, and German measles swept through entire schools and towns; I had all four. Polio took a heavy annual toll, leaving thousands of people (mostly children) paralyzed or dead. There were no vaccines. Growing up meant running an unavoidable gauntlet of infectious disease. For college students in 1957, the Asian flu was a familiar hurdle on the road to adulthood. For everyone older, the flu was a familiar foe. There was no possibility of working at home. You had to go out and face the danger.
Today, thanks to vaccines, fewer and fewer people remember what it was like to survive a succession of childhood diseases. Is the unfamiliar threat of serious sickness making us more afraid of COVID-19 than we need to be? Does a society that relies more on politics than faith now find itself in an uncomfortable bind, unable to lecture, browbeat, intimidate, or evade the incorrect behavior of a dangerous microbe?
People in the 1940s and 1950s knew germ theory and understood all too well the transmission of disease. Their young people had about the same resilience as 2020 youth. In that context, they chose not to shut down the national economy, nor to put all students into correspondence school mode, nor to suspend college and professional sports for bad influenza outbreaks, even H2N2. The same athletes who are to be protected from COVID-19 have never in their careers reacted to teammates who got the flu by refusing to play.
Let’s be clear: if the latest bug ran through the entire ranks of the NBA, NHL, MLB, and PGA, plus all of the NCAA, we would expect not a single fatality. We would expect more fatalities from transportation accidents involving very expensive vehicles. At most, some players and coaches would be laid up for two weeks, as they are with the flu occasionally. OK, let’s dial that back one notch: there are a few coaches and staff with known heart disease, insulin-dependent diabetes, or suppressed immune systems. The organizations can easily afford to fully compensate and care for each of them in splendid safe isolation until this disease ebbs.
We should be perfectly clear about what we are choosing to do: we believe our nation and the developed world to be so wealthy that we can deliberately crash our economy to reduce the serious risk of the latest respiratory bug to our elderly and our populations of younger people with preexisting conditions that render them susceptible to severe or lethal consequences from respiratory infection. We believe that we will bounce back from this self-inflicted economic harm, recovering enough to be ready to deal with whatever the next national crisis might be.
We are choosing this response over focusing our resources on our vulnerable populations, cordoning senior communities and nursing homes from potential carriers, safely delivering meals and supplies to independent living seniors, and getting serious about imposing basic public health on our cities with large homeless populations turning their streets into third-world communities. I recognize that my parents are now in the prime danger zone. At the same time, almost no college student or professional athlete was ever going to need hospitalization and respiratory support for this or any other respiratory ailment. We know this from the past and from the documented course of this current pandemic.
We chose this course at some point. I do not blame President Trump, who is doing an admirable job of riding the tiger, and might just keep it from eating all of us through his actions, making the best of a bad hand and crooked play by the DNC’s media wing. He certainly did not have legislative allies, let alone cultural elite support to calm panic and get the public behind alternate strategies such as I suggest. Then again, this is the clown car we fill at the ballot box every two years.
* Yes, whooping cough. Of course, I was immunized and stuck again every time the Army said I was due for a booster shot, but that all ended in 2016, and if the shot was near its renewal date then, I was 3.5 years further on when I started dry coughing so hard my ribs hurt. So, two courses of antibiotics later, I’m past the bug being present but can expect a few more months of minor upper respiratory irritation. Mind you, I had to walk into a large lab for a scheduled blood draw, and another lab with a full waiting room for a chest x-ray, so I’ll be thrilled if one or more of my fellow lab customers had COVID-19 or some strain of the flu outside the cocktail shot I took this past fall. Oh, and the cute as a bug’s ear, healthy appearing, and very skilled, young lab tech who drew my blood was not wearing a face mask in February, so whatcha gonna do?Published in