All the news of the coronavirus reminded me of correspondence between Bernard Daly and the State Health Officer and Daly’s order for a county-wide quarantine in May of 1903.
Daly was a doctor long before he became a judge. As a doctor, he knew about germ theory and that disease could be spread from person to person by microorganisms that couldn’t be seen. The last major U.S. smallpox epidemic was from 1901 to 1903. Smallpox was a particularly deadly virus. Between 300 and 500 million people died of smallpox in the 20th Century alone.
Daly was determined to prevent the spread of smallpox in Lake County. On May 4th, Daly wrote to the state health officer to notify him of a case of smallpox in Silver Lake and that the patient and all exposed persons were isolated and quarantined. Convinced that case came from Crook County, where there were many cases and no or little effort to quarantine those who had been exposed. Daly strongly urged the state health officer to go to Crook County and establish strict quarantines for all exposures. If not, Daly said that he would issue a quarantine to prevent all “ingress” from that infected area.
The next day, Daly received a telegram saying to go ahead and establish the quarantine if he thought it was best. He did. On May 6th, ordered George Hanan to “… proceed to the north line of Lake County, near the McCarty place, on the stage road, and to establish and maintain at such place a quarantine station, and to prevent ingress of any and all persons, including stages carrying the United States mails and all other things from said Crook county.”
I don’t know how long the quarantine remained in place or how effective it was, but it was quite progressive for its time. The Lake County Board of Health required isolation and quarantine for all exposed to smallpox and strongly urged all residents to be vaccinated. It was a time when many believed that smallpox was associated with poverty and filth; some thought it was caused by planetary misalignment. Though vaccination with cowpox was found to be effective, many resisted. Once again, Daly was ahead of his time.
Note: The word quarantine comes from a seventeenth-century Venetian variant of the Italian quaranta giorni, meaning forty days, the period that all ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during the Black Death plague.