Plague Diary 13: Rainy Day Quarantine

Death’s Head Overlooking Venice Beach

Once again, I have taken a Los Angeles Times photograph from their evocative series on the effects of the quarantine on L.A.’s public spaces.

Today has been a day of steady rain, which started late morning and will probably continue through the night. We did get out around 11 am: Martine needed repairs to her eyeglass frames that only an optician could make, and I picked up a couple of Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches for her. Martine was none too happy with the yellow split pea rice pilau I had cooked the previous evening, preferring meat dishes even as I drift slowly into a vegetarian diet.

Returning around noon, we have stayed in the apartment. I sat in the library finishing Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. As I compare the current coronavirus disease with the bubonic plague, I would have to say that COVID-19 is by far less horrible. Whereas the mortality rate of the current outbreak is 2% of those afflicted, some 69,000 Londoners out of a total of 500,000 died of the 1665 outbreak.

The way that London enforced quarantine was to lock up any household where there was an instance of plague, enforced by two shifts of watchmen who would assist the tenants of the house get food and other necessities. But if one person in a household got the plague, it was fairly certain that all would die horribly.

On most days, I see at least one film, either from Spectrum Cable, Netflix’s DVD.COM service, or my personal DVD collection, consisting mostly of American and foreign classics. Today, since Martine did not go out for a walk, I decided not to induce her to retire to the bedroom to avoid listening to samurai sword fights, Western gunfights, or other irritatingly loud sound tracks.

Tomorrow, the rain will gradually taper off, and I will be able to play one of my films.

 

 

Serendipity: London 1665 Bubonic Plague

The Bubonic Plague in London

As bad as the coronavirus is. it is nothing compared to the Bubonic plague. In 1722, Daniel Defoe published a superb work of reportage about the 1665 Bubonic plague in London entitled A Journal of the Plague Year. At the actual time of the plague, Defoe was only five years old; so it is actually a carefully researched work of fiction.

It was known to us all that abundance of poor despairing creatures who had the distemper upon them, and were grown stupid or melancholy by their misery, as many were, wandered away into the fields and Woods, and into secret uncouth places almost anywhere, to creep into a bush or hedge and die.

The inhabitants of the villages adjacent would, in pity, carry them food and set it at a distance, that they might fetch it, if they were able; and sometimes they were not able, and the next time they went they should find the poor wretches lie dead and the food untouched. The number of these miserable objects were many, and I know so many that perished thus, and so exactly where, that I believe I could go to the very place and dig their bones up still; for the country people would go and dig a hole at a distance from them, and then with long poles, and hooks at the end of them, drag the bodies into these pits, and then throw the earth in from as far as they could cast it, to cover them, taking notice how the wind blew, and so coming on that side which the seamen call to windward, that the scent of the bodies might blow from them; and thus great numbers went out of the world who were never known, or any account of them taken, as well within the bills of mortality as without.

This, indeed, I had in the main only from the relation of others, for I seldom walked into the fields, except towards Bethnal Green and Hackney, or as hereafter. But when I did walk, I always saw a great many poor wanderers at a distance; but I could know little of their cases, for whether it were in the street or in the fields, if we had seen anybody coming, it was a general method to walk away; yet I believe the account is exactly true.

Smoking Was Considered a Way to Avoid the Plague

As this puts me upon mentioning my walking the streets and fields, I cannot omit taking notice what a desolate place the city was at that time. The great street I lived in (which is known to be one of the broadest of all the streets of London, I mean of the suburbs as well as the liberties) all the side where the butchers lived, especially without the bars, was more like a green field than a paved street, and the people generally went in the middle with the horses and carts. It is true that the farthest end towards Whitechappel Church was not all paved, but even the part that was paved was full of grass also; but this need not seem strange, since the great streets within the city, such as Leadenhall Street, Bishopsgate Street, Cornhill, and even the Exchange itself, had grass growing in them in several places; neither cart or coach were seen in the streets from morning to evening, except some country carts to bring roots and beans, or peas, hay, and straw, to the market, and those but very few compared to what was usual. As for coaches, they were scarce used but to carry sick people to the pest-house, and to other hospitals, and some few to carry physicians to such places as they thought fit to venture to visit; for really coaches were dangerous things, and people did not care to venture into them, because they did not know who might have been carried in them last, and sick, infected people were, as I have said, ordinarily carried in them to the pest-houses, and sometimes people expired in them as they went along.

 

 

Zoonotic Spillover

So This Pandemic Comes to Us from Bats?

My one experience with bats comes from the 1980s while I was visiting Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Every day from June to October, almost precisely at sunset, tens of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats emerge from the cave, gliding inches from the ears of spectators seated in an amphitheater near the entrance.

While I admire the creatures for devouring untold billions of insects, I have never been tempted to eat bat meat in any way, shape, or form. But the current coronavirus pandemic could be due to Chinese in Wuhan attempting to do just that with meat obtained at a highly unsanitary institution referred to as the “Wuhan Wet Market.” According to CNN, a bat-infected pangolin could have been eaten by Patient Zero of the coronavirus.

Bats Emerging from Carlsbad Caverns at Sunset

Others say that the virus emerged as a result of a lab accident in Wuhan in which a study of bats was involved. In either case, it was an instance of zoonotic spillover, in which a disease crosses from an animal to a human.

Whatever the source, there are numerous conspiracy theories in China, the United States, and around the world fomented by the usual guilty parties. These state that the virus was deliberately spread by China or the U.S. or by God, who is dissatisfied by the laxity and sinfulness of His worshipers.

Pangolin

I am not in a position to rule on how COVID-19 started on its quest to infect the world. Many comparisons have been made to the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) of the Middle Ages, of which one website provided the following description:

The Black Death was a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. The plague arrived in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. People gathered on the docks were met with a horrifying surprise: Most sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those still alive were gravely ill and covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe—almost one-third of the continent’s population.

Thankfully, COVID-19 has nowhere near that mortality rate.

Still, be careful and stay safe!