A Vaccine Won’t End the Pandemic in Rural America

A Vaccine Won’t End the Pandemic in Rural America

COVID-19 Could Linger for Years—Just as Influenza Did a Century Ago

Almost every year, I make a pilgrimage to a little town on Lake Huron in northeast Michigan, where my family has vacationed since my mother was a child. Not far from the quaint, two-block downtown, with its ice cream parlors and tourist clothing shops, sits an old lighthouse marked with a terribly sad plaque. The plaque tells the story of Blanche Deckett, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, who died a century ago during the influenza pandemic. Deckett had come from out of town to visit her father with her three young children, two of whom suddenly fell ill. The youngest, only two years old, remained well and fetched water for his sick family members. But Deckett eventually succumbed to pneumonia, and her body was carried from the lighthouse across the frozen bay and into town for burial. 

Deckett didn’t die during the first or second wave of influenza in 1918, or even during the third wave in early 1919. She died in early 1920, when the pandemic finally arrived in the tiny town in northeast Michigan, sparking a rush of illnesses and school closings. The virus took its time percolating through the United States, as it did through many parts of world. And for years after influenza was mostly eliminated in major cities, smaller outbreaks continued to occur, mainly in rural areas that had been spared the initial deadly waves.