It appears that America and the rest of the world are beginning to peek out from under the covers of the recent COVID-19 pandemic after spending roughly half of the year shutting down national economies and trying to minimize human-to-human contact by efforts to quarantine nearly everyone to avoid overloading healthcare systems.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, better known by the acronym “CDC,” estimates about 1.9-million Americans have already suffered from the disease with more than 120,000 deaths.
In 14 days, I’ll turn 68 years old, a figure that leaves me befuddled because just like the good book says, and I’ll paraphrase here, “Life passes like a whisp of smoke.”
As we approach milestones in our lives, they offer us a time for reflection and introspection. That started me wondering how many pandemics or epidemics I’d lived through.
As a youngster, the polio epidemic under way in the early 1950s had from 1916 to 1955 infected nearly 58,000 Americans, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt and my good friend, former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, with about 3,200 deaths nationwide.
Although those totals pale in comparison to the infamous Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920, as well as infection rates and deaths in our country during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fear parents faced in the first half of the 20th century didn’t subside until Dr. Jonas Salk developed his famous polio vaccine.
A deadly pandemic that passed totally under my radar as I began school in Seymour under the tutelage of Miss Lillian Newburg (who gave me a whipping with her ruler on my first day of school) was called the Asian Flu pandemic of 1957 and 1958, with 116,000 American deaths out of a U.S. population of about 171 million of our countrymen.
Another pandemic, the one called the “Hong Kong Flu” in 1968 and 1969, occurred without the mainstream media screaming, “It’s racist to call it the Hong Kong Flu.” Compare that response to today when any reference to the COVID-19 virus and China has liberals exploding with rage calling it racist to even say where the disease originated.
The Hong Kong Flu passed by with hardly any notice, locally for nationally.
We all went to school every day, nobody except the “bad guys” in Western movies wore masks. We practiced “social distancing’ during the “Summer Of Love” with about 600,000 crowding together in a muddy cow pasture in rural New York for the Woodstock Festival to hear some of the best bands of the 1960s like Jimi Hendrix, “Creedence Clearwater Revival,” Janis Joplin and “The Who.”
Every evening in 1968 and 1969 on the nightly news there were death counts — not resulting from Hong Kong Flu but keeping track of how many young Americans had been killed that day in Vietnam.
President Lyndon B. Johnson came down with the Hong Kong Flu and so did the crew of Apollo 8. Thousands of people gathered to watch the Apollo 11 crew launch the summer of 1969 on their way to the historic first-manned landing on the moon. It even infected “Shamu,” the killer whale, at Sea World.
The Hong Kong Flu even increased the body count from the Vietnam War. The highly contagious virus swept through Southeast Asia and made it’s way to our shores, borne here by infected soldiers returning from war.
The Hong Kong Flu saw about 100,000 Americans dying out of a U.S. population of about 200 million.
Next came the H1N1 “Swine Flu” pandemic in 2009 and 2010 (Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Barack Hussein Obama our president during that time?) H1N1 hospitalized about 403,000 Americans with a little over 18,000 Americans dying. Fortunately, pigs can’t talk so there weren’t any “oinks” calling out “you’re racist” by calling the virus Swine Flu.
This column doesn’t attempt to minimize the pain and suffering being caused worldwide by the COVID-19 virus; rather, it’s a way to put major outbreaks of viruses during my lifetime into better perspective.
I’m sure readers will agree that heroes have emerged responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We can’t praise enough our healthcare workers, law-enforcement personnel, other first-responders like paramedics and firefighters, long-haul truckers, U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx drivers, the people keeping our grocery shelves stocked, people keeping our gas and electrical resources working and the thousands of volunteers doing whatever they can to alleviate the suffering of others.
Don’t forget the battle against COVID-19 isn’t over. Reach out to others and let them know you are thinking about them, ask them if they need anything and most importantly, be there for them.
As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said after the Royal Air Force stopped the German Luftwaffe’s attack on London and other key cities during the Battle Of Britain, “Now is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Let’s hope the same evaluation applies to the COVID-19 virus ... not the end or beginning of the end, but the assurance that it is the end of the beginning.
Fred Spriggs is the former news editor of the Webster County Citizen, a position he held for nearly 15 years. He now lives in rural Stone County in retirement with his wife, Julie, who also is a native of Seymour.