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Published July 28, 2020


A true fairy tale

Once upon a time, there was a city where people got very sick

By John Toth / The Bulletin

Once upon a time, there was a city where the people got very sick. Many of them died. They were scared and turned to their leaders for help.

But the leaders weren’t any wiser. They had not seen anything like this before, either. They turned to the experts for advice. That was a little better, but there was not much they could do, either. Many people who got sick recovered, but many others died.

They realized that if the people avoided each other, the chances of them getting sick decreased, so they asked everyone to keep their distance and wear masks. When the illness could not find new hosts, it would die out by itself because the only hosts left would be the people who had recovered or died.

It made a lot of sense. Once the illness stopped jumping from person to person, it would just go away. Most of the people complied, but there were problems. Not everybody liked the changes, and that continued to spread the illness.

Churches were allowed to stay open, as well as bars, as long as people wore masks. But some people didn’t like wearing masks, saying face coverings were uncomfortable and ineffective. Others wore masks and still got sick, they argued. Masks, don’t work, they decried.

To try to make the illness go away, the leaders made new laws to punish those who did not wear a mask. Those caught cheating could be jailed or fined up to $200. Even some of the leaders in the city were caught cheating and had to pay a fine.

But many businesses didn’t enforce the mask order because owners felt like it would hurt business. And the illness continued to claim victims.

Many streetcar conductors also refused to enforce the mask laws. So many people were arrested that the city’s jails were filled to capacity. And the illness spiked.

When the leaders decided that newspaper reporters were asking too many questions and not writing what the leaders wanted, they threatened the messengers.

“None of you reporters are welcome until you stop printing lies,” protested one leader, who threatened to close down newspapers on the basis of being a “public health nuisance.”

Wearing a mask was an unconstitutional infringement of their civil liberties, said those who did not want to wear a mask. They grew louder and louder, and then they organized into a group to oppose the mandatory mask laws.

They had a meeting at which 2,000 people attended, including several prominent physicians and city leaders. And, the illness continued to claim more victims.

Then the people decided that they wanted a quick fix for the illness.

One was, “clean heart, warm feet, clean bowels.” That would solve it, they said.

“Cut an onion in half and rub it on your chest,” was another remedy. That probably took care of the distancing concerns. If you smelled like onion, nobody would come near you.

“Take a bath in creosote.” This one was toxic and dangerous. Whoever tried it probably didn’t have to worry about the illness.

“Eat brown sugar.” This was probably good for the sugar industry, but no, it didn’t work, either.

Then the townspeople pretended that everything was fine and decided that life should return to normal. And the illness roared, and more people died.

The moral of the story? Don’t do what the people in San Francisco did during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. That’s where this took place. It’s not a fairy tale. It actually happened.

Before the flu epidemic ran out of hosts, 675,000 people died in the United States. Let’s not repeat history.

We’re better than that.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)