The Black Plague, Coronavirus, Rats, and Masks

I just listened to this great interview with Marilyn Chase on KPFA . She talks about her book about the Bubonic plague in San Francisco. Throughout history the Black Death threatened most of humankind. As most people know, it was carried by rats who were then bitten by fleas, who then bit people, who then became ill and, often died. Today, our new plague is carried by people, who breathe, cough or sneeze and infect other people. We are the new rats and fleas carrying the new plague. But unlike people during most of the plague pandemics, who did not know what caused the illness, we do know, which is why it is so disheartening that so many people in this country won’t wear masks.

This isn’t only true in Florida, or Texas.  Where I live, in Richmond, people flount the rules and stand close to each other chatting on the street or outside bars.  They congregate in parks or beaches.  I am visiting Nevada City, in the Gold Rush country, and people were sauntering down the street — several couples walking together, no masks in sight and no social distancing.  One liquor store owner had a mask on, pulled down around his neck.  A couple came walking near me and my husband — both of us were wearing masks — carrying their masks by their sides.  I tried politely to point out that masks are for wearing, not carrying.  They were rather churlish in response.

I wish all this weren’t necessary.  I wish I tool could blithely go drink a beer and go out with friends and not have to worry about who is carrying what virus.  But we do.

Europe has — at least for now — begun to open up.  With the exception of Sweden, most countries did things right.  Now their economies are beginning the long process of recovery.

How do we convince people here that wearing a  mask and social distancing are not political statements but healthcare precautions?  How do we have these conversations?  How do we convince people not to be the new rats and fleas carrying disease and threatening our loved ones, friends, and communities?

My new motto is don’t be a rat, wear a mask and protect your friends and loved ones.


  • Constance Anne Adams

    Your post is very well put. The situation is challenging when the President of the United States encourages the “rat” behavior, and chooses not to lead by example.

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