And now the United States is facing a pandemic that has disproportionately sickened and killed black Americans who make up a large part of the essential workforce but are less likely to have access to health care. As the federal and state governments manage vaccine use, access to tests and treatments, and financial aid packages, it's important to learn from the past and take direct action to reduce the racial and economic inequalities that caused the pandemic, that was so devastating.
"If the effects of racism and xenophobia were less systemic in our society, we would likely see fewer deaths as a result of COVID-19," White said. "Intolerance is significantly bad for public health."
Embrace unexpected innovations
Although pandemics have reaffirmed old prejudices and forms of marginalization, they have also spawned new things, particularly in relation to the arts, culture, and entertainment.
Ancient Rome, for example, was ravaged by epidemics that occurred every fifteen or twenty years in the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd centuries BC. C., explains Caroline Wazer, writer and editor who wrote a dissertation on Roman public health. At the time, the main public health response was religious, and the Romans experimented with new rites and even new gods to stop the disease from spreading. In one case, according to Wazer, as an epidemic that lasted three years and the public became increasingly excited, the Senate passed a strange new ritual from northern Italy of "getting actors to perform on the stage." According to the Roman historian Livy, "that's how the Romans had their theater," said Wazer, although the idea was discussed.
A spiritual response to the disease also led to a cultural change in 14th century England. The British remembered the mass graves of the Black Death and feared they would die without a Christian burial and spend eternity in purgatory, Bailey said. So they began to form guilds, small religious groups that basically functioned as "funeral insurance clubs" where they raised money to treat their members appropriately after death.