The first quarantine we know about was established in the port city of Ragusa, which is known as Dubrovnik today. This happened back in July 1377, during the Bubonic Plague, or Black Death. Doctors at the time discerned that the spread of the Black Death could be hampered by isolating individuals. Quarantine also performed a notable role in how 20th-century American cities responded to the outbreak of the 1918 influenza pandemic, or Spanish flu. Philadelphia became an example of what could go wrong, 72 hours after holding the ill-fated Liberty Loan parade in September, all the city’s 31 hospitals were at full capacity following the event.
2. Socially Distant Food and Drink Pickup
During the Italian Plague in 1629 to 1631, the wealthy citizens of Tuscany thought of a smart way to sell off the contents of their wine cellars without entering the likely infected streets: Wine windows. These tiny windows were cut into the outside walls of grand homes to allow wine sellers to pass their wares to waiting for customers, kind of like the to-go takeaway windows that sprung up in cities like New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were over 150 wine windows in the city of Florence, and 400 years after the Plague, they were again used during COVID-19 to serve customers everything from gelato to coffee.
During the Plague, doctors wore masks with long, bird-like beaks while treating patients. Their long beaks created social distance between patient and doctor and partially covered their mouth and nose. At the time, doctors believed that diseases spread through bad smells in the air, and so they packed their beaked masks with strongly scented herbs in an attempt to ward off illness. Even during the 1918 influenza pandemic, masks became the tried and true method of stopping the spread of infection.
4. Washing Hands and Surfaces
Nowadays, we know that washing your hands helps reduce the spread of disease, but regular hand washing was a novelty during the early 20th century. Bathrooms were first built as a way to protect families from germs brought in by guests. Before, these visitors would have traveled through the home to use the bathroom, trailing bacteria from the outside with them. Germ theory was a relatively new concept that was only brought to light in the mid-1800s by scientists held disease was caused by microorganisms invisible to our naked eyes. Having a sink close to the front door made it easier to wash your hands upon returning home.
5. Fresh Air and Adaptive Schooling
The argument around whether or not to return to in-person schooling is a complicated one in a pandemic; the coronavirus pandemic was not the first time that universities and schools were forced to deal with the question. A young Isaac Newton was sent home from Cambridge University in 1665, to return to his family’s farm following an outbreak of bubonic Plague. It was there that he supposedly witnessed the falling apple that led to his law of universal gravitation. While fresh air doesn’t always lead to new ideas, it was used to help contain the Tuberculosis outbreak in the early 1900s.