In crisis, we learn from past

In crisis, we learn from past

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The Times and Democrat via contributed articles by historian Richard Reid and Harriet Hutto of Providence has taken the audience back in time during the coronavirus crisis.

Reid wrote about a flu outbreak that greatly affected Orangeburg County in 1920, when a quarantine became necessary.

Hutto wrote about the impact of a more widely known health crisis, the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-19 and how it tragically affected her family.

The two accounts are more than interesting in these times. They serve as lessons from history about what disease has done — and what it can do still in an age when medical advances have curbed so many threats.

DID YOU SEE? Orangeburg quarantine 1920: Influenza epidemic extends 2 months

History education advocate David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, adds further perspective:

"The past is prologue to the future, and -- here we are -- 102 years later, in the midst of another calamitous pandemic. The Spanish Flu reached the U.S. in March of 1918; now, just after another Ides of March, the country is plagued — literally — by another deadly influenza.

"This one is COVID-19.

"We’ve come far since the Spanish Flu surprised the world a century ago; little was known about how to defend against — or rub out — a disease. And so, it tore through the country for more than a year."

Smith cites the Centers for Disease Control's assessment then: “In 1918, as scientists had not yet discovered flu viruses, there were no laboratory tests to detect, or characterize these viruses. There were no vaccines to help prevent flu infection, no antiviral drugs to treat flu illness, and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with flu infections."

It took America’s public health officials nine months to educate the populace about the dangers of unprotected coughing and sneezing, according to Smith. The public was told to bend its routines and avoid crowds.

Spanish Flu Epidemic 1918-19: How it affected my family in Orangeburg County

Sounds a lot like the same preventive measures being advised today in what Smith describes as a "far more intricate" world. We learn from history in so many ways.

But in order to learn, we must know that history and have it recorded, which falls to all of us and not just those known formally as historians.

Learning about your families and communities through gathering information on your own is important. That can mean interviewing older family members about their experiences. It can mean researching family records. It means being interested and inquisitive.

And what about the information you can provide to those coming after you?

Harriet Hutto has some good advice amid the coronavirus crisis:

"As you have extra time while waiting out the current pandemic, take time to make notes for your own descendants. One day, they might enjoy reading them as they deal with some house containment of their own."

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