Back when quarantines were taken more seriously

By Craig Westcott/January 27, 2022

My mother, who is 81, was telling me the other day about the time she and her family were quarantined when she was a child growing up in Carbonear.

My mom and her family lived with her grandparents. It happened that her grandmother had taken in a child who had no home. This was fairly common in Newfoundland back then. My great-grandmother on my father’s side did the same thing in St. John’s.

Anyhow, the child whom my great-grandmother adopted in Carbonear caught diphtheria and the family had to be isolated. Fortunately, my Mom’s dad, that is to say my grandfather, and his father (my great-grandfather) happened to be away working on the pole lines for the United Towns when it happened. So, they could keep working, as long as they stayed away from home. The authorities came and posted a plaque with the word “Quarantine” on the front door of the house to warn the public nobody was allowed in and nobody was allowed out.

People left food on the doorstep.

Diphtheria was then one of the largest killers of children in the world. The nurse who came to examine the little girl described the child’s throat as looking like it was full of cobwebs.

Like Covid, diphtheria is spread by coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread by human touch.

Here’s how the Mayo Clinic describes the symptoms. “The bacteria make a toxin (poison) that kills healthy tissues in the respiratory system. Within two to three days, the dead tissue forms a thick, gray coating that can build up in the throat or nose. It can cover tissues in the nose, tonsils, voice box, and throat, making it very hard to breathe and swallow.”

It was very contagious, came on two or three days after exposure, and could cause sores and ulcers on your skin. People rightfully feared their children getting diphtheria. Thousands of children in North America, and countless around the world, died from it every year. That is until scientists started developing vaccines to prevent it. Over time, the vaccines were perfected and, at least in the developed world, became more accessible for ordinary families.

Today, children get a series of vaccinations before the age of six that prevent diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and other deadly and dangerous infections and illnesses. The march of science has been a tremendous blessing to humanity. It has prevented untold misery and sorrow. For those of the Christian faith, it is the Lord’s work in action; people using the gifts of God – intelligence and reason, their hands and compassion – to prevent disease and heal the suffering.

This is why the anti-vaccine movement is so disturbing. It is a rejection of knowledge and science and education, a denial of common sense, learning and rationality, a spurring of compassion. It is a turn towards superstition and nonsense. It is a march backwards instead of forwards, a wilful choosing of darkness over light.

And that’s going to be my last word on the unvaccinated for a while. A couple of weeks ago I described them in pretty harsh terms. The words were accurate, but it was a cruel way to describe people. There are good folks among them, albeit misguided, misled, and misinformed. Calling people names only hurts them. It doesn’t bring them any closer to the light.

Return to ‘Normal’

The anti-vaxxers aside, it’s time for the rest of Newfoundland to return to as close to normal as common sense and public awareness allow. This particular Covid variant, Omicron, is so prevalent, you can assume it is everywhere, that it has touched nearly every family, household, business, and organization on the Avalon.

We are very fortunate that it is not as deadly as earlier versions. But that is principally because most people here have been vaccinated. And if you’ve been boosted, it is even less of a risk. For most people who have been double vaccinated, catching Omicron seems no more serious than a bad cold or flu. It’s potentially much worse, of course, for the unvaccinated, the elderly and people with other serious health issues.

The province should remove or relax the current Alert Level and let people decide for themselves, according to their own level of comfort, where and how to shop, congregate, recreate and otherwise live their lives, until a more dangerous variant comes along.

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