WTVM Editorial 6-3-20: Lessons from pandemics

Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 5:04 PM EDT
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(WTVM) - There’s always a lot we can learn from history. There are some interesting parallels between our current strategies against COVID-19 and the Yellow Fever Epidemic in the summer of 1793.

227 years ago, the city of Philadelphia, at that time, the nation’s capital, was absolutely gripped by the strange fever that attacked the kidneys and liver.

Back then, and certainly relevant now, is the role cleanliness and social distance was thought to play in defeating disease.

One of the first to treat Yellow Fever in Philadelphia was Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was sort of the Dr. Anthony Fauci of his day.

Just like now, the medical experts back then did not agree on how to defeat the virus.

Dr. Rush urged people to keep their distance and do what they could to keep the streets and their homes clean. Beyond that, doctors argued over the effectiveness of various medical treatments, which also sounds familiar.

Doctors would not know that Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes until it was confirmed in the 1880s.

There were many Philadelphia businesses that closed their doors to avoid the infection, but no official economic shutdown was ordered in 1793.

President George Washington, just starting his second term in office, was in Philadelphia, since it was the nation’s capital then.

Those who could do so fled Pennsylvania for somewhere that seemed safer. Yellow Fever would kill 10% of Philadelphia’s population.

President Washington decided his home at Mount Vernon was the best place for him to ride out the plague.

But after about two months, with the cool fall weather breaking the fever, President Washington knew he had to come back.

Our first President needed to show the citizens of America, then in existence only 17 years, that he had confidence in the future and that the government was still functioning and that life had to resume as best it could. Building confidence is what leaders do.

We can and should wear masks in public places, wash our hands like crazy and keep six feet apart because it’s the right thing to do.

And now most of us can also do what Washington did, get back out in public to show that life must go on.

General Manager Holly Steuart brings an editorial a week to WTVM. If you would like to respond to an editorial, e-mail your response to hsteuart@wtvm.com or write to:

WTVM Editorial Committee

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Columbus, GA 31906

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