Earlier epidemics hold lessons for western Virginia

The Florida Department of Health releases newest update on COVID-19. (MGN)
The Florida Department of Health releases newest update on COVID-19. (MGN)(WJHG)
Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 9:46 PM EDT
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Nelson Harris knows a lot about western Virginia's history.

He's a minister, a former mayor of Roanoke and the author of more than a dozen books, including his latest, "The Roanoke Valley in the 1940s."

"This is really the third time that the Roanoke Valley has been through a significant health event," Harris told WDBJ7, "and had to curtail life as usual, in the past 100 years."

That happened during the flu pandemic in 1918, when Harris says theaters and houses of worship closed. Schools shut down for a month.

And again 26 years later when a polio epidemic gripped the region.

"In 1944, schools were delayed in opening, parks were closed, pools were closed," Harris said. "Anywhere children might gather were closed."

Harris said the region reacted once cases started to mount, history that holds a lesson for today.

"To listen to the medical community, to follow the protocols that they have suggested, no matter how inconvenient they may be, because they know the science, they are looking at the data day in and day out, and the more we heed them the better off we will be," Harris said. "And I think that's the big lesson of history over the last 100 years."

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