Sixty thousand cases of polio were reported in 1952, the year I turned 2. I was not one of the children crippled by that virus, not one of the more than 3,000 children who died in that year alone — just in the U.S.

In 1979, when I finished nursing school, we were not routinely wearing gloves to do our work, not even handling bedpans. A few short years later, as I emerged as a novice in my career, the AIDS epidemic had us concerned about transmission, and we began to wear masks, gloves and gowns. In those days it could have been fatal if I’d contracted HIV from an accidental needle stick.

Tuberculosis began to reappear in the 1990s, with an exploding prison population and many immigrants to the U.S. In 2018 the number of reported new cases of TB in our country dropped to 9,029, down from 9094 new cases in 2017. But reported cases of syphilis rose sharply, including congenital syphilis that can cause severe neurological deficits in newborns.

The swine flu epidemic of 2009 (H1N1) infected 61 million people in the U.S and caused 12,000 deaths. Globally most deaths occurred in people younger than 65.

So what is the mortality rate for COVID-19? This is uncertain because we do not have an accurate count of mild or unreported cases. 

Much remains to be seen, especially how long it will take for our economy to rebound. Perhaps by June, we will begin to gain some “20-20 hindsight.”

And maybe — I’m hoping and praying as I continue to work at my part-time ER job, folks will begin to think more seriously about guarding their immune system. Maybe more people will take responsibility for their health in ways that only they can effect — instead of panicking because the government didn’t provide a vaccine. In addition to good hand washing, maybe more people will stop smoking, eat a healthy diet, exercise, get adequate sleep and take extra vitamin C.

Let’s protect our immune systems, trusting the words of Psalm 139: we were “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

- Jo Billings, RN, Appomattox