Monday, March 16, 2020


David Clarke, who was a full-time right-wing bloviator long before he left his job as Milwaukee County sheriff, thinks the U.S. response to the coronavirus shows that we've become soft and weak as a nation.

This wasn't Clarke's worst tweet of the weekend, of course...

But let's take a look at the article Clarke cites in the first tweet. It's from City Journal, which is conservative but intellekchul, don't you know.

The piece is by Clark Whelton, who used to write speeches for Mayor Rudy Giuliani and for his equally divisive Democratic predecessor, Ed Koch. Whelton is an older man now. He lived through a previous pandemic, and he thinks we young whippersnappers have lost our intestinal fortitude.
... even at my advanced 80-something age, I find the whole COVID-19 panic to be strange and troubling. I’ve lived through epidemics before, but they didn’t crash the stock market, wreck a booming economy, and shut down international travel. They didn’t stop the St. Patrick’s Day parade or the NCAA basketball tournament, and they didn’t drop the curtain on Broadway shows.
Whelton focuses on one pandemic in particular.
My first encounter with a global pandemic came in October 1957, when I spent a week in my college infirmary with a case of the H2N2 virus, known at the time by the politically incorrect name of “Asian flu.” My fever spiked to 105, and I was sicker than I’d ever been. The infirmary quickly filled with other cases, though some ailing students toughed it out in their dorm rooms with aspirin and orange juice. The college itself did not close, and the surrounding town did not impose restrictions on public gatherings. The day that I was discharged from the infirmary, I played in an intercollegiate soccer game, which drew a big crowd.

It’s not that Asian flu—the second influenza pandemic of the twentieth century—wasn’t a serious disease. Worldwide, this flu strain killed somewhere between 1 and 2 million people. More than 100,000 died in the U.S. alone. And yet, to the best of my knowledge, governors did not call out the National Guard, and political panic-mongers did not blame it all on President Eisenhower. College sports events were not cancelled, planes and trains continued to run, and Americans did not regard one another with fear and suspicion, touching elbows instead of hands. We took the Asian flu in stride. We said our prayers and took our chances.

... 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?
The response in 1957 wasn't less extreme because more people had religious faith, or because they were used to living in a world with polio and measles. It was because the '57 flu appeared to be much less contagious and lethal than Covid-19. Here's a 2009 story that compares the '57 flu to the then-current H1N1 swine flu -- which, as you recall, also didn't shut down the country, even though it took place in the presidency of a soft, decadent, politically correct Democrat, if that how you choose to look at the world.
The pandemic virus of 1957 caused an illness that was briefly harsh but rarely fatal. Like this year’s strain, it emerged in the spring and smoldered over the summer. More than 80 summer camps have suffered swine-flu outbreaks; the picture in 1957 was much the same....

The first well-studied outbreak occurred in Grinnell, Iowa, where 1,688 people from 43 states and nine countries, mostly women, had gathered in June for a church conference. At least one was from Davis, Calif., where an outbreak had occurred recently.

The first Iowa case appeared June 26. Within days there were dozens more, and a dormitory was designated an infirmary. By July 1, with the toll at 200 cases, the conference disbanded.

Returning home, delegates effectively seeded the entire continent. Curiously, no communitywide outbreaks followed, probably because summer’s heat and humidity are somewhat inimical to flu. Whatever the reason, people at the CDC were assured there wouldn’t be an all-out epidemic — at least until fall.
There were outbreaks, but nothing like what's happening worldwide with Covid-19. Also, the '57 flu was a flu, unlike Covid-19 -- older people had some immunity to it and a vaccine was available within a couple of months.
The CDC already had asked six vaccine manufacturers to make a vaccine as quickly as possible.

By Sept. 11, 5.4 million doses had been released: 1.8 million to the Defense Department, the rest for civilian uses.
That's two and a half months after the first outbreak in the United States. (For Covid-19, we're not expected to have a vaccine until next year at the earliest.)

The '57 flu was more deadly than the typical flu, with, as Whelton notes, as many as 2 million dead worldwide and 100,000 dead in America. (Other estimates put U.S. deaths at 70,000.)

But compare that with Covid-19, which, in a worst-case scenario, could kill 1.7 million Americans, according to the CDC.

Whelton writes,
When the coronavirus finally runs its course, one of the most important tasks for health-care officials will be to determine whether the preventive measures we’re taking today were effective.
I think the answer will be yes, although we don't know yet. However, some of the measures being taken now might have been beneficial in 1957 -- particularly restrictions on large gatherings.
Government epidemiologists immediately had to decide whether to order the cancellation of a 53,000-person Boy Scout jamboree scheduled July 12-24 in Valley Forge, Pa.

“We knew that most were going to be in two-person pup tents, they were going to eat in small groups and spend a lot of time outdoors,” Henderson said. “We decided the amount of contact would be limited.” So they let the event proceed.

Ultimately, 350 people became ill....

Children’s camps were among the few places where flu continued to spread. Camp Roosevelt in Maryland had 70 cases and closed early on July 11. Seven camps in Northern California reported flu, with 123 of 505 children contracting the infection.
In schools, the flu was rampant.
During the first wave of the Asian influenza pandemic of 1957-1958, the highest attack rates were seen in school aged children. This has been attributed to their close contact in crowded settings. A published study found that during an influenza outbreak, school closures were associated with significant decreases in the incidence of viral respiratory diseases and health care utilization among children aged 6-12 years.

In 1957, up to 50% of British schoolchildren developed influenza.... In residential schools in the UK, attack rates reached 90%, often affecting the whole school within a fortnight.
Still, the Asian flu wasn't Covid-19. Nor were SARS, MERS, and swine flu, at least in America -- and so we didn't take the drastic measures we're taking now, even though we'd presumably become soft and decadent.

By comparison, during the 1918 Spanish flu, many of the measures Clark Whelton complains about were undertaken, even though 1918 America was presumably not wussy and PC.

On Oct. 3, 1918, Philadelphia closed all schools, churches, theaters, pool halls and other gathering places....

In Tucson, Ariz., the board of health forbade people to venture out in public without a mask. In Albuquerque, ... schools and theaters were closed....
This may not be the Spanish flu, but it's worse than anything seen in our lifetimes -- or in Whelton's. The response is appropriate.

No comments: