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5 Hard-Earned Lessons from Pandemics of the Past

August 10, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

How do populations survive a pandemic? History offers some strategies.

Humankind is resilient. While global pandemics like the ” is derived from the Italian quarantino, meaning “40-day period.”

READ MORE: Social Distancing and Quarantine Were Used to Fight the Black Death

2. Socially Distant Food and Drink Pickup

COVID-19 was not the first pandemic to strike Italy. During the Italian Plague (1629-1631), the wealthy citizens of Tuscany devised an ingenious way to sell off the contents of their wine cellars without entering the presumably infected streets: Wine windows, or buchette del vino.

These narrow windows were cut into grand homes to allow wine sellers to pass their wares to waiting customers, much like the to-go cocktail windows that popped up cities like New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seventeenth-century wine sellers even used vinegar as a disinfectant when accepting payment. There are over 150 wine windows in the city of Florence, and 400 years after the plague, they were revived amid COVID-19 to serve customers everything from wine and coffee to gelato.

3. Mask-Wearing

Boys wear bags of camphor around their necks around the time of the 1918-19 Spanish flu—an “old-wives’ method of flue-prevention,” according to a December 1946 issue of Life magazine.

View the 9 images of this gallery on the original article

Doctors treating patients during the Black Death wore plague masks with long, bird-like beaks. They had the right idea—the long beaks created social distance between patient and doctor and at least partially covered their mouth and nose—but the wrong science. Doctors at the time believed in Miasma theory, which held that diseases spread through bad smells in the air. The beaks were often packed with strongly scented herbs believed to ward off illness.

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, masks became the go-to means of stopping the spread of infection to the public. Masks became mandatory in San Francisco in September of 1918, and those who didn’t comply faced fines, imprisonment and the threat of having their names printed in newspapers as “mask slackers.”

But newspapers weren’t just for shaming; they also printed instructions on how to make masks at home. People even got creative with masks, with the Seattle Daily Times running an article entitled “Influenza Veils Set New Fashion” in October of 1918.

READ MORE: ‘Mask Slackers’: The 1918 Campaigns to Shame People Into Following New Rules

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