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‘We’ve been here before’: How COVID-19’s impact on the Stateline is similar to another virus 75 years ago

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — COVID-19 may be a new virus, but it's hardly the first to impact our area. The Midway Village Museum says historical data shows a similar situation occurred in the past.

So, who was the other invisible enemy? 75 years ago, it went by a different name, polio.

"All school age children under 16 were told to stay home," Beth Squires, Northern Illinois University's Public Health Program Coordinator, says of the national approach.

"There was a community committee appointed by the mayor (of Rockford), who was working on how to respond," Laura Furman, the Midway Village Museum's Curator of Collections, explains.

"And everything stopped for that summer until they lifted the quarantine," Squires adds.

Sounds familiar, right? Rockford's polio-epidemic of 1945 has striking similarities to what we are experiencing today.

"There were 321 cases and 26 deaths for that outbreak, which was with a population of 80,000 to 90,000 people," Furman says.

Furman says even the treatments were similar.

"The iron lung, that really is a 1940's version of a ventilator," Furman explains.

Like COVID-19, polio is a viral infection. It attacks the central nervous system and causes paralysis and even death. But though the virus had a similar impact on society, Squires says the viruses have many differences.

"[COVID-19] is brand new in the human population," Squires explains. "This is the first time we've seen a pandemic like this in our generation."

And because of that, there are ramifications when it comes to treating the disease.

"No anti-viral medication at present for us to use and no vaccination," Dr. Sandra Martell, Winnebago County's Director of Public Health, says.

Polio is actually big reason why we have vaccines today, which were developed after WWII. Vaccines will be key in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while we wait for one to be developed, Squires and Furman say stay calm, we've weathered this storm before.

Furman says the Midway Village Museum wants to know how you're spending your stay-at-home order. It's encouraging you to send a picture so it can continue to document Rockford's history.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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