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Yesterday's pandemic/today's reality

The Spirit of Tehachapi

Owens Valley 1918: I ran onto some interesting facts about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. The facts centered around the cities of Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and Bishop; small communities on the east side of the great Sierra Nevada Mountain range in California's Owens Valley. In the early Spring, even before the Spanish Flu found the area, the public school in Independence was just reopening after having been closed for three weeks due to a Whooping Cough epidemic in the area. No immunization shots yet in those days.

The United States suffered greatly from the epidemic with 675,000 Americans deaths being reported. The terrible scourge didn't find its way to the Owens Valley until early October 1918 with Bishop being hardest hit, but all small towns being infected.

At that time, all schools in Inyo County were ordered closed, as well as all public meetings cancelled by order of the County Health Officer, a Doctor Woodin. One cannot help but smile when reading the edict that all young men under the age of 20 must stay out of pool halls.

Teachers were kept on salary with no restrictions as to making up time at the end of the year. No "online" lessons either in those days. In fact, radios and telephones were still a rarity. This is just a random thought, but it is possible that the students were given assignments to complete at home.

Of course, wearing a mask was required. I hope they were as cute as some of our Tehachapi masks that are being worn.

As the plague continued there was no foreseeable date for the schools to open and public gatherings were still prohibited, including the "shows" which would have been live entertainment or an occasional silent movie with films starring Charlie Chaplan, Lillian Gish, John Barrymore or Clara Bow. Movies with sound would not be presented to the public until the early 1920s and were termed, "talkies."

By the end of November, people in the Owens Valley cities were beginning to take off their masks and were happy to begin to resume their lives. The facts I found did not say if that action was wise, but statistics show the flu continued into the end of the next year with the world death toll at 50 million.

In those days –just 102 years ago –there were diseases that have, in the past 20th Century, been conquered by immunization or medication preventing contracting the disease. We can thank medical science of the past century for being able to ensure that babies can not contract Small Pox, Diphtheria, Measles, Mumps, Whooping Cough, Chicken Pox and don't forget Tuberculosis and Polio. Remember the Asian Flu of 1957 -58; Hong Kong Flu of 1968 -70; Swine Flu of 2008-09? We made it through.

I recall the dread Tuberculosis, that was finally successfully treatable with a series of medications. I remember Stony Brook Retreat near Keene that had scores of patients doing the rest cure; the only treatment known at that time. Still, there are so many more terrible ailments waiting to be conquered by ever vigilant scientists.

The 20th Century was a time such as no other; going from horse and buggy to space travel; scientific and electronic inventions, educational advancements with endless things to come in this 21st century.

Sure, we've seen the other side with wars, cruelty of mankind to mankind. We have work yet to be done. Guess we can stick together and keep the faith. Say your prayers and stay well if you can.