Social Distancing and Quarantines Throughout History

According to Doctor S.I. McMillen in his book None of These Diseases, leprosy killed millions of people in Europe for hundreds of years. Terror and fear were rampant. It was endemic, and physicians had nothing effective to offer.


The church took the lead with the contagion quarantine principles found in Leviticus. McMillen quotes Professor of Public Health George Rosen: “Once the condition of leprosy had been established, the patient was to be segregated and excluded from the community… it (the church) accomplished the first great feat… of methodical eradication of disease.”


Rosen continues: “As soon as the European nations saw that the application of Scriptural quarantine brought leprosy under control, they applied the same principle against the Black Death.” The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence and the Great Bubonic Plague, was a pandemic plague that in the fourteenth century alone killed one out of four, an estimated total death count of sixty million; it has been called the greatest disaster in human history.


McMillen goes on to quote Rosen: “As soon as the European nations saw that the application of Scriptural quarantine brought leprosy under control, they applied the same principle against the Black Death. The results were equally spectacular, and millions of lives were saved.”


More recent and closer to home, at least 50 million deaths worldwide were attributed to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919. Dr. George Still of Kirksville, Missouri, was unwavering in limiting visitation and isolating people who showed flu symptoms. Patients were either isolated at home or in a contagious hospital which was in a separate building from the regular hospital. St. Louis was extremely effective in mitigating the spread of the pandemic. It was reported that the city banned all public gatherings and closed schools, theaters, bars, and public gatherings; individuals were encouraged to self-isolate. Springfield also enacted a citywide closure and public gathering ban in October 1918 (reported in the Springfield News Leader by Brian Grubbs, Local History and Genealogy Department manager, Springfield-Greene County Library District).



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