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Social Distancing practiced a century ago

By Mike Watson

The corona-virus of 2020 is a serious outbreak that has already taken numerous lives and will continue to spread, as such things do, until it has 'run its course' and an effective medication is created and successfully in use. We must all keep vigilant and self-protect by staying away from those who may have been exposed. There is no harm nor foul in being safe and secure.

There is nothing new under the sun...

One century ago the world was much different, but also much the same. The United States had remained largely isolated from the conflict in Europe that erupted in 1914, but trade had continued and so had immigration. When our nation entered the conflict in April 1917 millions of American men registered for possible, even likely, service on the front lines.

After a long hard fight, the War To End All Wars--what we call now term World War I--came to a close with the Armistice in 11 November 1919. Later, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Europe and the rest of the world began picking up the shattered pieces.

Millions of American service men headed home. Slowly at first, then in a torrent. Shipped back to the United States, men were released at various points to return home, some permanently, others for a furlough of days or weeks, then to report elsewhere to finish their hitches in the various branches of service.

As these men came home, they often brought the influenza, which had been raging in Europe, on board returning ships, and in the camps here at home. Men were treated and then released, but some had a light case, or showed no symptoms at all. They came home. Family and friends were then, by virtue of close physical contact, unknowingly infected. So the 'flu' raged here at home. Adair County was not immune.

The first cases of this new influenza appeared in Adair and surrounding counties in the fall of 1918. By the end of January 1919 there was great concern about the spread and various precautions were taken. According to issues of the Adair County News, from January and February of that year, the following steps were taken:



Lindsey Wilson Training School was closed. The first diagnosed case on the hill came in mid-January and within one or two days there were fifteen cases. Rev. R.V. Bennett closed the school and teachers were sent home. Dr. Bennett and a number of nurses remained with the student patients.

The Columbia Grade School was closed as of January 20th. There were nineteen cases among the students and in a day or two the number had grown to about thirty across the town of Columbia.

By the end of January the S.C. Neat family was reported to have ten cases. The surrounding suburbs were hit as well, and the county began reporting cases throughout. Everyone at that time came in to shop at Columbia periodically, and even in January, supplies may have been meager due to the Christmas and New Year celebrations. So, the town had been full of people on recent Saturdays.

The sick became better in time and Lindsey Wilson announced its reopening date, February 17, and welcomed all students and teachers to come back to the hill. The germ was dying out and cases became fewer and milder.

The death toll for the influenza was released in the summer of 1919 and the News carried an informative article in the issue of September 3: Influenza deaths in Kentucky for 1918 reported as 11,677. There was more to come...

Scattered cases of what might have been the same were to be found in Adair and surrounding counties, and across the State and Nation, into the fall of 1919. Not until February 1920 did the scourge begin anew.

The Adair County Board of Health--precursor of the Health Department--headed by Dr. S.P. Miller, County Health Officer, met in Columbia on February 25th. Those present were Dr. Miller, County Judge W.S. Sinclair, Dr. S.A. Taylor, and G.R. Reed.

The Board "ordered that an epidemic of Influenza is declared to exist in Adair County, and is spreading at such a rate as to endanger the life and health of the Citizens of Adair County." Then continued with instruction that all picture shows [movies] and places of public amusement in the county were to close and remain closed until otherwise ordered by the Health Officer.

Also "...all public schools in Adair County to be closed and remain closed... That Lindsey Wilson Training School be instructed to permit no person to attend said school except those who pupils who board in the dormitories...and that those pupils be not permitted to visit the business portions of said Town, except for the purpose of procuring their mail or to purchase the necessities of life."

The Postmaster at Columbia was instructed to close the lobby of the office immediately upon the arrival of the mail from Campbellsville, and keep it closed until the mail was ready for distribution. This due to the fact there was not yet a delivery route in town and all persons collected mail at the post office on the Square.

Further, "It is ordered that all churches in Adair County be instructed to cease to hold public worship in their respective buildings until otherwise ordered. It is ordered that all business houses in the Town of Columbia be instructed to remove all chairs and seats from their places of business, and permit no one to loaf in their respective places of business, and that each place of business be instructed to post in a conspicuous place in their house, a card bearing the following--No Loafers allowed, by order of the Board of Health."

All homes in which the influenza existed were to be quarantined under restrictions: No one be permitted to enter the room of a patient, except those in charge of and waiting on the patient; and that no member of that household be permitted to leave the home, except for the purpose of procuring aid, medicine and the necessities of life. Every physician in the county was ordered to notify families where the illness was present to comply with the order.

Ordered that all parents in this community keep their children at home, off the streets, and away from all places where children congregate.

So it began...

Michael C. Watson, 1 April 2020


This story was posted on 2020-04-04 07:46:44
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