Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posie.
In a video my son posted on Facebook, my granddaughters Evelyn and Marisa, hands clasped, laugh happily as they as they sing and swirl in circles to the nursery rhyme.
Husha, husha, we all fall down.
The girls tumble to the grass, still laughing. The activity appears to be great fun and certainly a way for them to expend some energy during the pandemic shut- down.
The rhyme dates back to the 1600s and the Great Bubonic Plague. The fatalism of the rhyme is brutal: the roses represent the deadly rashes, the posies are the herbs used in an attempt to treat the disease, and the falling down is the almost inevitable death.
Today we are entering the seventh week of a country-wide shut-down in an attempt to mediate the spread of the world’s most recent pandemic, the Corona-19. As of May 3rd, the total number of cases in just one country, Canada, is approaching 57,148 confirmed cases with the total number of deaths at 3,606. Television ads constantly urge Canadians to wash their hands frequently, wear masks in public, keep two metres apart, and stay at home.
Schools, stores, businesses, restaurants, sports and entertainment facilities, barbers and hair salons are all closed. Borders are shut. Airline flights are cancelled. Streets are all but empty. Only essential workers are employed and they must all wear masks.
The pandemic began in Wuhan, China in December of 2019 and was initially spread by international travellers. Very soon it spread rapidly through community transfer. The first Canadian cases emerged in a Senior’s Home in Vancouver. Seniors, not children, have been the hardest hit by this pandemic, most of them confined to care homes where a single case becomes rampant. Front line workers fall ill and cannot care for their patients. Hundreds of our elderly have died resulting in what has been referred to as geriatric genocide.
So far, my family is healthy. My son and his wife are able to work from home and, unlike thousands of others, their income remains intact. The girls are bored and restless with schools closed, parks and playgrounds barred, sports and extracurricular activities cancelled. While child care is not an issue for them as it is for many families, they struggle with home schooling the girls via on-line learning. A simple childhood game of Ring Around the Rosie is a welcome reprieve.
This is not the first time that family members have been impacted by a pandemic. During the Spanish Flu, the disease was formally documented for two ancestors in their military service files.
In June of 1918, my son’s grandfather, Laurence Tarrant, contracted the Spanish flu while convalescing at the Epsom Military Hospital in England from surgery to save an arm badly injured during the Battle of Arras. He survived.
My great aunt, Ella Willett, a nursing sister in WW1, also survived the Spanish flu. She contracted it in June of 1919 during the second wave of the flu and recovered in the Basingstoke Military Hospital, England.
The Spanish flu began in an American army camp in Kansas and moved back and forth across the Atlantic with the troops. The military provided an ideal incubator. The soldiers lived in conditions conducive to its spread. Stressed, dirty, hungry, wet and cold, massed in camps, huddled in trenches and tents or jammed into troop trains and ships, soldiers and nursing sisters were easy prey.
Unlike today’s Covid-19 flu, the Spanish Flu attacked more young adults than those who were elderly and it moved with grim speed. Symptoms experienced during the second wave were far more severe than those of the first wave. Victims’ lungs filled with bloody, frothy liquid and their faces turned blue as they drowned in their own fluids, often overnight.
The first wave of the Spanish flu killed 3-5 million people world-wide; the second wave killed 20-50 million. Without today’s computers, it is difficult to be definitive.
World economies have suffered dreadfully during this corona pandemic. In Canada, the Federal and Provincial governments have poured out billions and billions of dollars to aid of closed businesses and unemployed workers leaving the country with a mountain of debt.
In the last week we have heard much talk of when and how to reopen the economy. In most provinces, the number of those infected has not yet peaked despite all our interventions. The virus will clearly not go away until there is a vaccine. Our reopening must be done slowly, gradually, and very cautiously or all our efforts thus far will be for naught. We do not want a second wave with the number of dead exceeding that of the first.
Ultimately, we can never return to the way we once were in pre-covid-19. We must instead create a new, safer normal. Test, trace and isolate and treat will be the key strategy.
Look back at the photo of the girls playing Ring Around the Rosie. There is a black hearse very clearly parked in the background. Let that be our warning.
Tarrant, Lawrence. Service File, Archives Canada
Willett, Ella. Service File, Archives Canada
Sharon Adams. “War and the Spanish Flu.” Legion: Canada’s Military History, Sept. 2018.