The Black Death

by Sean Martin
Reviewed date: 2020 Nov 22
158 pages
cover art

This pandemic is exhausting. It's long and boring and stressful and dull and I want it to be over. But I read a book about the Black Death, and it brings the Covid Pandemic into perspective. The Covid Pandemic is not terror-inducing. For most people, so far, it's not filled with grief. It's not world-changing. It's not an existential threat. It's not making people throw open their doors to let any and all take their belongings because there is no hope for tomorrow. Crime is not skyrocketing due to the perceived lack of consequences--because death is around the corner for everyone anyway. In the Black Death, some English villages were wiped out to the last person. Fifty percent mortality was not uncommon in places. Overall, a third of all Europeans died. The Black Death killed fast: healthy at bedtime, dead by morning was common.

In the Covid Pandemic, the entire US may experience 300,000 dead in 2020, maybe twice that altogether. Numbers comparable to the Black Death would be 300,000 for the city of Dallas alone. The entire US might experience 100 million dead. In the Black Death, there was never any hope; no treatment, no cure, no vaccine, no mitigating interventions, no end in sight. In the Covid Pandemic, was have all sorts of treatments, and multiple highly effective vaccines are now only weeks away. It's possible that from the first case of covid to the first widespread rollout of a vaccine will be only 13 months. The Black Death lasted years, and recurrent subsequent outbreaks happened regularly for hundreds of years.

The Black Death is known to be a form of plague, caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, but unlike the modern plague which is mostly bubonic, the Black Death plague was more virulent. The pneumonic and septicaemic forms, which are rare today, were prevalent. Further, there were other characteristics of the medieval Black Death that are unknown today, so it is likely there was one or more unknown factors at play that made the Black Death an order of magnitude more contagious than today's bubonic plague.

Truly it was a terrifying time.

Covid has nothing on the Black Death.

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