Misery Loves Company: Coping with Pandemic Then and Now, 1918 and 2020

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“May you live in interesting times.”
- English saying, uncertain origins

The above quote has been on my mind a lot lately. Though I’m young, I’ve been blessed with a more or less boring life thus far. This month life has grown a lot more interesting thanks to a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

On March 9 the governor of my home state, Illinois, issued a disaster proclamation (declared a state of emergency) in response to growing numbers of cases, and on March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 had become a pandemic. By the end of the week, March 13 (coincidentally Friday the 13th), the president declared a national emergency. Only a week after that announcement, on March 21, a shelter in place order went into effect all across Illinois.

It has felt like the world is shutting down. Cancelled events and anxiety abound in these uncertain days as communities take steps to contain the outbreak. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic is one of those major historical moments that future historians will study. Given the unsettled state of the world right now, I’d like to put this modern pandemic into its historical context. Some journalists have already made comparisons to past outbreaks, but much of the media coverage has referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as “unprecedented.” As a historian, I’m not a fan of that word choice. A little over a hundred years ago the world experienced the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic, which was another modern pandemic. Even though the two pandemics exist in two very different contexts, the human experiences are similar.

To read more of The Walking Anachronism blog, click HERE.

• Emily Dattilo, a museum educator at Naper Settlement in Naperville, is a former Collections Assistant at the McHenry County Historical Society & Museum. She also pens the history blog, The Walking Anachronism, available at https:// thewalkinganachronism. wordpress.com/author/ edattilo/.


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