HARRISBURG — Mandatory closures. travel restrictions and stay in place orders are not unique to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Pennsylvania and other states have, in fact, experienced these four times in the past half-century.
The first was in April, 1968 following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tenn
America, literally, erupted. Race riots plagued virtually every major city including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Then Gov. Raymond Shaeffer ordered national guard troops into those cities to quell violence and restore order. Travel was restricted, state liquor stores were closed.
Mayors Joseph Barr, of Pittsburgh, and James Tate, of Philadelphia put those cities on virtual lockdown.
Then Maryland Governor and later U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew reportedly threatened to sign a shoot-to-kill order for those assaulting police and national guard troops trying to restore civil order in Baltimore.
Baltimore was the first major U.S. city to go quiet during that crisis.
In Pennsylvania, Shaeffer, Barr, Tate and other officials lifted the restrictions just before Holy week and Easter festivities.
Four years later Hurricane Agnes roared up the east coast dumping record rains on the commonwealth, particularly the northeastern counties. That resulted in catastrophic flooding in the Scranton, Wilkes-Barre area as well as the Allentown, Easton, Bethlehem area.
The entire state was impacted. However, it was severe in those areas
Gov. Milton Shapp ordered the National Guard to assist with flooding clean-up in those areas and in south-Central Pennsylvania. He also imposed statewide travel restrictions for nearly a week.
Six-years late the Three Mile Island Nuclear power plant’s Number Two reactor went rogue. Then Gov. Dick Thornburgh “advised” central Pennsylvania residents to stay indoors. Pregnant women and, the elderly were also “advised” to evacuate the region.
The Roman Catholic Bishop authorized the a mass absolution--the ritual forgiveness of sins for area residents--the first since that given to troops prior to the 1944 D-Day invasion.
President Jimmy Carter visited the facility. Unknown to many was that President Carter is a PhD. nuclear engineer. His doctoral is from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’s also a U.S. Naval Academy grad and a former nuclear submarine commander. He conveyed a confidence the situation would come under control as he stood at the TMI center of the master control room. He was correct. within days the crisis had passed.
Moreover, then state House Democratic Leader Ivan Itkin, of Pittsburgh, also a PhD. Nuclear engineer, accurately predicted, step-by-step, how the situation would end. His insight also helped to maintain calm.
The Coronavirus pandemic, however, is very different. The number of confirmed cases in Pennsylvania virtually doubles every two days. Victims generally experience maximum sickness with seven to nine days. Those most vulnerable, die soon thereafter.
Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered his entire administration to enforce business closures and limit travel to halt the disease spread.
State Health Secretary, Dr. Rachael Lavine, is reported in multi consultations daily with experts at the National Center for Disease Control and other governmental agencies to develop and update strategies to deal with the crisis.
This crisis, however, has no precedent. Thus, nobody knows how or when it will end.
Staying home and washing hands often will contribute to ending the disease spread.
Still, an old Pittsburgher wonders if a daily “Imp & Iron” (a shot of Imperial Whiskey with an Iron City Beer chaser) will help this crisis pass.