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Now and then: social distancing and scarlet fever in Camden

By Susan Mustapich | Mar 24, 2020
Courtesy of: Walsh History Center, Camden Public Library

CAMDEN — March issues of The Camden Herald have been filled with reports of how the community is changing to slow the spread of coronavirus.

As of March 23, COVID-19 has not been reported in the Herald's five-town area of Camden, Rockport, Hope, Lincolnville and Appleton. However, confirmed cases are escalating daily in the state, and the Maine Center for Disease Control is not reporting confirmed cases, which may be located in Knox County, when the patient is resident of another state.

The first news report in the Herald of an impact of coronavirus in the five-town area, appeared on Villagesoup March 9, when a long-planned Camden-Rockport Middle School exchange trip to Japan was postponed. At that time, schools in Japan were already closed out of concerns about spreading the virus.

Within seven days, all schools in the five-town area were closed until the end of spring vacation for the same reason.

Camden restaurants began to close their dining rooms and hold onto some of their staff and their business by delivering food and serving takeout, following advice from Maine CDC to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others.

Town offices and opera houses closed. On March 17, Gov. Janet Mills mandated a limit of 10 or fewer people in public gatherings. Social distancing had become the norm, except in grocery stores where people crowded to stock up on supplies, emptying large sections of shelves.

In 1944, The Camden Herald reported school closures and restrictions because of an outbreak of scarlet fever. Similar to coronavirus, social distancing stopped spread of the illness.

Unlike coronavirus, scarlet fever targeted children, and appeared to subside from the area fairly quickly, according to reports.

In the Thursday, April 13, issue, the newspaper reported local school boards had closed the Elm Street and Knowlton Street schools, during a week when there was only one case of scarlet fever in those schools. Camden High School was not yet closed, but was starting April vacation the following Monday.

The newspaper noted nearly 50 cases of scarlet fever were reported in Rockport and Rockland in the previous few weeks. When children in those towns were barred from public gathering places, and began coming to Camden, actions were taken to prevent that, the Herald states. The story does not explain what those actions were.

Camden school officials asked parents to abide by the advice of school physicians. Parents were asked to keep their children in the vicinity of their own street, and not allow them to go to other streets to play.

Movies, the YMCA and all public gatherings were closed to youth, from kindergarten through grade 12. The Camden Community Hospital was closed to visitors.

The early signs of scarlet fever included sudden onset of headache, fever and sore throat, followed by a rash that usually appeared within 24 hours. The newspaper reported that the illness was spread by discharges from the nose and throat of those who had scarlet fever, as well as carriers who did not have the illness.

A 21-day quarantine was imposed on anyone who had scarlet fever or lived in a household with an ill person, according to the story. The quarantine included seven days after a doctor had confirmed that the illness had ended. Some adults and children were immune to scarlet fever, according to the report.

In its April 20 issue, The Camden Herald reported only two new cases that week. The patients were not children, and schools were to open the following Monday if no new cases were reported. Restrictions on children, previously reported in the newspaper, were to continue.

In the April 27 issue, the Herald reported the Elm Street school was back in session April 25.

An event took place that day, where the school's 156 children were recognized for over 90 of the students buying War Savings stamps. The Camden High School band played the national anthem, and two flags were raised, the Maine state flag and the Minuteman flag, in recognition of the student participate in the war effort. The newspaper also announced that students were to take part in a May Day celebration at the Camden Opera House the following week.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 24, 2020 13:54

Stay safe everyone! God Bless!

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