Crowd scene illustration

Since we crowd together to spread it, we need to join forces to vanquish it.

Like it or not, this strain of the coronavirus is going to drastically change the way we live our lives. It’s started already. We can’t avoid it, and the transformation is going to be drastic, even historic. It has the dual potential of tearing us apart and bringing us together. I’m rooting for the latter.

At last count, as I am writing this Wednesday morning, there were 1,031 confirmed cases in the United States, with ten percent of that total (108) festering in a cluster of neighborhoods in New Rochelle, NY. There are at least a dozen in Pennsylvania, four in Northeastern Pennsylvania and zippo in the five Northern Tier Counties where I have been successful, so far, at avoiding large crowds.

Some of our county populations don’t even qualify as large crowds. The combined populations of neighboring Sullivan and Wyoming Counties would still leave a third of the seats in Yankee Stadium empty. Keeping six feet between us isn’t all that tough here. You get the idea.

Still you know the numbers will be higher tomorrow morning. They are higher as I tap out each successive paragraph of this blog, and it will keep getting worse. It will take a year to 18 months before we can expect an effective, approved vaccine for this strain. That means we’ve got to start combining our resources as Americans to combat a common enemy.

I’m thinking the President may be rethinking his original pronouncement that it was essentially a “Democratic hoax,” meaning, I guess, that the Democrats were blowing it out of proportion and using it to somehow discredit him. Everything, of course, is about him, but he is probably right that the opposition is using it to their political advantage. Even a burgeoning pandemic is not exempt.

I think if we really want to make America great again, we take off the funny baseball caps, roll up our sleeves and start working together. Okay, maybe we should leave the sleeves down just to minimize exposure.

—It’s like going to war. Some of us are troops going into battle and others do their part on the home front.—

Last Friday I suggested to several college basketball fans who were at least nine feet away from me in a local tavern that March Madness might be reduced to playing out all seven rounds of 68 teams in empty gymnasiums. At that time we had yet to hear of a confirmed case in Pennsylvania. It’s just a game, and there will be much more serious sacrifices to contemplate, including stemming the drain on retirement funds, postponing long planned vacations trips, staying away from elderly parents and grandparents in nursing homes and watching, guiltily, as small businesses struggle to stay open because we hesitate to walk through their doors, purchase their goods and eat their food. We’ll all be making Amazon even richer and hoping the delivery guys are washing their hands and not sneezing on our packages.

We’ve been given a heads up here. We all know what to do individually, but we need our leaders to step out and lead. We’re going to have to come up with a national strategy not tainted by politics if that is possible.

This is an advantage they didn’t have in 1918 when another pandemic, the Spanish Influenza, struck in the midst of a war in Europe, killing 675,000 Americans and as many as 100 million worldwide.

This mystery killer came, conquered and then was gone. Can we expect the same relief from this invader? It happened in the rural county where I live, as evidenced by this order of the Acting Commissioner of Health in Bradford County, effective November 1, 1918:

It is ordered that all public places of amusement, all churches, public and private schools and Sunday schools be closed until further action and notice and that all public meetings and gatherings of any kind, social or otherwise, are prohibited.

Sayre was especially hard hit and the local news media reported 980 cases in October of 1918 in that community alone and literally 85 cases overnight. There were more than 300 cases “and rapidly increasing” reported in Athens. Two special hospitals were set up between the two communities to handle hundreds of cases. The Sayre Canteen was taking care of infected soldiers. Towanda and Monroeton both report escalating cases of the killing flu. None of these communities claimed more than 5,000 residents. Few escaped untouched by its impact. The scary part was that, unlike other flu strains, it struck healthy young adults the hardest.

The end of the Great War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 gave rise to great celebrations and gatherings as the government remained mum about the dangers of such close contact among so many. There was a resurgence of cases and deaths after this celebratory communion—fortunately a brief one. Then it was gone.

Perhaps the winter cold killed it or some higher authority ordered it begone? Such were the explanations as our citizens returned to normal living and ended self-imposed seclusion.

There never was a cure or any accepted treatment, for that matter, beyond personal hygiene measures and segregating the healthy from the sick. It was not easy to do once it invaded a household.

It seemed on the verge of destroying civilization as we have come to know it.

And then it was gone.