History speaks — Are we listening?

Published 12:03 am Saturday, April 11, 2020

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Submitted by Soror Renna Ebron

April 10, 2020, was National Global Impact Day on the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. national program calendar. AKA is an international service organization that was founded over 112 years ago and often hailed as “America’s premier Greek letter organization in the United States and globally.” It is dedicated to implementing programs of service that enhance the social, economic and educational well-being of the local, national and international communities.

The intent of the National Global Impact Day was to have local chapters, such as Lambda Psi Omega, Franklin, Virginia, engage in a community service project to highlight our global assistance activities to include:

• collecting gently worn shoes in partnership with Soles 4 Soles to create sustainable jobs and shoes to those in need around the world;

• collecting used eyeglasses by partnering with the Lions Club International to prevent blindness and restore eyesight to millions around the world; and

• making pillowcase dresses to send to children in need in Haiti

The current coronavirus pandemic has quickly changed the focus of the narrative. Because of the devastating impact this virus and its spread has upon our local, national and international landscape, Lambda Psi Omega thought it would be helpful to share some facts to help shape our community’s response to this pandemic.

January 2020 a new word was introduced — “coronavirus (COVID-19)”. On Dec. 31, 2019, Wuhan, China, reported dozens of people were being treated for pneumonia, with the first death on Jan. 11, 2020.

Jan. 21, the virus had made its appearance in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand

Jan. 31, for the sixth time in history, the World Health Organization declared a “public health emergency of international concern,” a designation reserved for extraordinary events that threatened to spread internationally.

Now we know the rest of this story … it has indeed spread nationally and internationally, with a record number of deaths in the United States. This virus has altered our way of life; our emotional, economic and social well-being in ways we could not have imagined. Who knew history might be repeating itself! In 1918, there was an influenza outbreak known as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic; the deadliest flu season known because it infected approximately 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 deaths in the United States; starting the spring of 1918 through the end of 1919.

Why should we care about a flu pandemic that occurred over 100 years ago? With no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections, control efforts world-wide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly. Why have we not made more progress in 100 years since the Spanish flu pandemic? Between September and November of that year, 195,000 Americans were killed in October 1918 alone. During the spring of 1919, a third wave occurred that subsided in the summer of 1919.

In December 1918, public health officials began education programs and publicity about dangers of coughing and sneezing, while the Committee on American Public Health Association encouraged stores and factories to stagger opening and closing hours to prevent overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Wuhan, China, where this nightmare started, has now turned the corner in curtailing the spread of the virus. How so, with no vaccine or treatment? Strict adherence to stay home orders, wearing of masks in public and social distancing seems to be the key. Therefore, if we are to learn anything from the history of 1918 and now Wuhan, China, it is that COVID-19 is serious and many lives can be lost if we do not strictly follow these stay-at-home orders, wear masks when and if you have to go outside, and maintain social distancing. This guidance is especially crucial for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, hypertension and even diabetes, since this virus attaches to the lungs and impacts breathing while the body immune system tries to kill off the intruding virus. Second lesson, when and if we get out of the woods in a few months, prepare for the COVID-19 to return. Hopefully by then, there will be more testing available and treatment, but we may only have a memory of social hugging, hand-shaking and implementation of a traditional school calendar year in the classroom, and holding church services in a building.

ALPHA KAPPA ALPHA SORORITY INC. is an international service organization that was founded on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1908. It is the oldest Greek-lettered organization established by African-American, college-educated women. Alpha Kappa Alpha is comprised of more than 300,000 members in 986 graduate and undergraduate chapters in the United States, Liberia, the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Germany, South Korea, Bermuda, Japan, Canada and South Africa. Led by International President Glenda Glover, Alpha Kappa Alpha is often hailed as “America’s premier organization for African-American women.” For more information on Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and its programs, visit www.aka1908.com.