Monday, November 28, 2022

If You Think the COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis Reflects Some New Deficiency in American Society...

I just watched a fascinating PBS documentary called Plague at the Golden Gate.  
There are some striking similarities to recent experience.   Just do not try to match everything up to neatly: Dr. Fauci=Dr. Kinyoun.  Gov. Gage=Gov. Newsom.  It is not like that but there are elements that are a reminder of Mark Twain's aphorism: "History does not repeat but it often rhymes."

First: the setting.  (This part is not well covered in the documentary.  I am just giving the benefit of knowledge.)  San Francisco was a hotbed of Democratic hatred of Asians who competed with white workers for jobs and the city had passed repeated laws ostensibly for public health reasons, but really to oppression the Chinese.  (Race has always been a Democratic Party tool for engaging poor unskilled workers.)  The laundries must be only in brick buildings to drive the Chinese out of the laundry business. 

The Cubic Air Law limiting housing density as a way of squeezing Chinese out of low rent housing.  A law requiring crew cuts for men going into the county jail because Chinese violators of the Cubic Air Law found three hots and a cot preferable to paying a $10 fine.  (Many probably did not have it.)  The Pigtail Law was an affront to Chinese men and Federal courts struck it down.  If public health was the reason why only men?  Ho Ah Kow v. Nunan, 12 F. Cas. 252 (C.C.D. Cal. 1879) 1

In 1900, bubonic plague cases start hitting Chinatown.   There was a widely held belief including among scientists that Chinese were especially prone to it compared to whites and the documentary runs with the racism explanation.   I can see two other explanations:

A. Chinatown and its counterparts were poor sections of town likely more rat-infested than most.

B. Whites are more likely immune to bubonic plague because the CCR5-delta 32 mutation that appeared during the Black Death provides some of full immunity (depending on whether you get it from one side or the other).  It also provides similar protection against AIDS and various hemorrhagic fevers.

Generations of Europeans have had multiple passes of bubonic plague to build up that mutation's frequency in the white gene pool.   By comparison it is not very common in East Asia.

Perhaps racism, perhaps some real differences in likelihood of infection.

The doctor with the Marine Hospital Service (the predecessor to the Public Health Service) at Angel Island was not just a doctor but a pre-eminent bacteriologist.  His response to the early cases was a quarantine of Chinatown and then a full lock down.  They started building a wall.

As it became apparent that there were cases outside Chinatown he became increasingly arrogant and demanding.  Threatening to quarantine S.F. and then all of California upset the people that really mattered, who insisted there was no plague and besides it was only the Chinese who had it, and Dr. KInyouan was transferred to Detroit after a corrupt deal was created by President McKinley, California government and business interests.  ("Take him to Detroit!")

His replacement was a South Carolinian with modest credentials.  He went into Chinatown and made friends and received cooperation where Dr. Kinyouan just received federal court injunctions.   He eventually figured out the role of the rats.  He started a rat catching campaign and ended the epidemic.  Being a white Southerner he did something scandalous: he paid his Chinese workers the same as his white workers.

Economic interests, a perception that individual rights were being destroyed over a disease that many denied existed.  Vaccine hesitancy with an experimental vaccine.  Everything is there in slightly different forms like an episodes of Sliders.

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