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COVID-19 is the latest public health calamity to hit us, but it's far from the first.

Although there are many forms of illnesses in the world, the ailment known as the plague is the most feared and reviled. We cannot see it nor do we know who is infected or who is not.

Every time there is a new strain, there are all sorts of new ideas and principles to learn and observe.

From 1347 through 1351, there was a devastating global epidemic that influenced Europe and Asia. In October of 1347, twelve ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina and ghostly infected Europe rapidly, killing one-third of all living Europeans. The carrier of the disease was rats.

In 1900, the same disease popped up in the west of America on rat-infested steamships, bringing in European immigrants from around the horn. This "black plague" randomly pops up from time to time even today in such places as Eastern and Central Oregon.

In 1918, just as our local troops were coming back from World War I, a deadly virus hit Europe.

"(We saw)…bodies stacked like cordwood, dead from the flu. (The Epidemic)…visited the most remote corners, taking toll of the most robust, sparing neither soldier nor civilian and flaunting its red flag in the face of science." — Dr. Victor Vaughn, 1918, at Fort Devens after WWI; Gina Kolata, Oregonian, Oct. 6, 2005, page A6.

At the time it was thought the soldiers were bringing it home, and despite quarantines, people started getting the "Spanish flu" across the nation. By the end of 1919, 50 million people died, which was more people than was killed in World War I, itself. One-third or 500 million people were infected around the world. Six hundred seventy-five thousand people died in America, alone. Three thousand, six hundred and eighty-eight people died in Oregon.

Many people in Sherwood came down with this virus and many died between 1917 and 1919. Newspaper after newspaper of this time period recorded many people with sickness and death. There were two doctors in Sherwood at the time, Dr. Rucker and Dr. Becker, and they had their hands full.

By the severe winter of 1918-19, many children were getting sick and dying. Five children died in Mt. Home on Chehalem Mountain. The snow was drifting over six feet on the mountain and no one could get down to the valley for weeks, so the children were buried in back of the Mt. Home Church. For decades after, children were not allowed to play around the graves.

Today, 101 years later, this virus has been identified as H5N1 and is known as the bird flu. It actually was spread by migrating birds who infected domestic birds such as chickens and ducks. While doing research, they actually found the virus in other barnyard animals. The origin was tracked to the year 1917. As of 2005, two teams of university and federal scientists announced that they had tracked the virus back to a warehouse established by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. They examined the World War I veterans' tissue and finally established the contents of the virus. There was much interest in examining the virus, because another virus was around the corner in 2005 called the H1N1. They found that this new strain did not spread from human to human but was never-the-less dangerous and could cause death. This 2005 strain infects cells that line the air sacs of the lungs. Unlike other "flus," both the H5N1 and the H1N1 are made of entirely different genetic building blocks. H1N1 came from pigs and was called the swine flu.

Now, in 2020, we are at the mercy of COVID-19. We have no idea how this came about or what building blocks are in the genetic code. We think it came from China. We think it came from bats. We think it primarily comes from the air of infected people. We know the virus is invisible and we know it tears down the air sacs of the lungs. We know that it can be communicated from human to human and thus we must not congregate, keep in the open air and wear a mask. We know to wash our hands and be very vigilant.

Facts as of Aug. 31 include: 6,020,186 U.S. total cases, 183,355 total deaths and Oregon's death total, although lower than most states, was at 459. The future of this pandemic certainly lies in the facts from the past and science.

As of press time, the Sherwood Heritage Center remains closed. We were going to join the Art Walk, but it got canceled due to the wildfires and smoke. The Chalk Art portion of the walk will be rescheduled.

Our board will be considering doing an open-air "Our Community" walk. If approved, we will announce the details on our Facebook page "Morback Museum."

The "Our Community" experience provides state standards in social studies for grades 2-4. We will schedule this event for October as we have for the past 14 years.

June Reynolds is a member of the Sherwood Historical Society.


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