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Dayhoff: In playing chess with God, again, ‘practical steps’ needed to fight latest plague

To prevent influenza! poster. Visual image is a photograph of a Red Cross nurse with a gauze mask over her nose and mouth. Text next to the image provides tips to prevent influenza.
To prevent influenza! poster. Visual image is a photograph of a Red Cross nurse with a gauze mask over her nose and mouth. Text next to the image provides tips to prevent influenza. (Paul Thompson/Baltimore Sun)

In a haunting echo from the past, today, too many folks are disregarding the lessons of history. It was in March and April 1918 that the Spanish Flu first appeared in the United States. However it was in the final months of the year that caused the most deaths. We can only hope — and carefully plan — for a different outcome in our current opportunity to play chess with God.

A March article in History.com, explained that it was the Spanish Flu’s second act that had terrifying results. The title of the article was: “Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu Was So Deadly: The first strain of the Spanish flu wasn’t particularly deadly. Then it came back in the fall with a vengeance.”

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Davis Roos, the author of the article explains, “While the global pandemic lasted for two years, the vast majority of deaths were packed into three especially cruel months in the fall of 1918. Reported cases of Spanish flu dropped off over the summer of 1918, and there was hope at the beginning of August that the virus had run its course. In retrospect, it was only the calm before the storm.”

Sadly, to make matters worse, “The public health response to the crisis in the United States was further hampered by a severe nursing shortage.  … The shortage was worsened by the American Red Cross’s refusal to use trained African American nurses until the worst of the pandemic had already passed,” according to Roos.

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Childs Walker wrote a harrowing account of the havoc caused by the flu, on April 10, in a Baltimore Sun article titled, “The ‘forgotten pandemic’: What researchers can learn from the 1918 flu that devastated Baltimore.”

He reported, “When the deadly second wave hit in September 1918, patients quickly overwhelmed the available beds and medical staff. … Cities took insufficient precautions as leaders played down the threat … Baltimore health commissioner John D. Blake dismissed it as ‘the same old influenza that the physicians have recognized and treated for many years,’ according to a 2006 retrospective in The Baltimore Sun.

“Public schools closed over Blake’s objections before he finally banned public gatherings on Oct. 9. By then … the city’s hospitals were overwhelmed and its businesses struggling to operate.”

Already history is repeating itself in Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture. A recent article on NPR by Scott Neuman explains that the prefecture, “has seen a sudden uptick in cases, causing government officials there to declare a state of emergency less than a month after lifting a similar order. … Hokkaido declared a three-week state of emergency in February that was lifted on March 19. The prefecture had begun to reopen schools and was even allowing carefully orchestrated public gatherings.

"We are facing a crisis of a second wave in the spread of (the coronavirus) infections," Gov. Naomichi Suzuki told reporters in the capital, Sapporo, the NPR article reported.

So where do we go from here? Perhaps we may draw from the writings of Martin Luther during the 1527 return of the bubonic plague, the Black Death, in Europe, in what we know today as Germany today.

According to an article written by Ryan P. Cumming on April 2, on the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America website, “In 1527, the plague re-emerged. When it hit Wittenberg in late summer, the University of Wittenberg closed. The students were sent home, and many residents self-quarantined to avoid the deadly sickness.

“Martin Luther, recovering from his own illness, responded to an earnest plea from Johann Hess, the pastor at Breslau. Hess’ central question was thus: as everyone else sequestered themselves in isolation, ‘is it proper for a Christian to run away from a deadly plague?’ Luther responded with his letter ‘Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.’

“For Luther, this work was grounded in two claims of faith. First, the church is called to service of the neighbor, particularly in times of distress. ... Luther argued in his response to Hess that ‘we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in his distress but is obliged to assist and help him as he himself would like to be helped.’ To help one’s neighbor in times of illness is to serve Christ.

“What, besides self-preservation, ought to shape our response to a pandemic? And, what might love of neighbor look like? Pray…then work. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others.

“… Luther’s description sounds timely, still today. What he is describing, essentially, is social distancing. Pray, yes, but take practical steps to avoid infecting yourself and others, he claims.”

At this point we need to stay the course. The good Lord did not bring us this far to drop us on our collective heads. But we each need to do our part — and keep our end of the bargain. To help one’s neighbor in times of illness, our number one responsibility these days is to look after each another. It is times like this that Carroll County shines.

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Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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