As the global pandemic stretches beyond the second year mark, some are looking to the past for inspiration to get through it.
That includes Dr. Maia Majumder, a computational epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.
She recently tweeted a “family portrait” from the 1918 flu pandemic. The six-member family in the photo is entirely masked. So, it seems, is their cat.
Her somewhat frisky observation has been liked and retweeted thousands of times.
Family portrait from the 1918 flu pandemic. (Retweet when you see it… 🐱) pic.twitter.com/qjFDZy77Tj— Dr. Maia Majumder, PhD (@maiamajumder) March 16, 2022
The photo is real. (More on that below.)
But the issue is whether the cat is actually masked.
Here’s the fascinating backstory about the photo, which was truly taken in California during the Spanish Flu outbreak.
Pleasanton Museum on Main posted the photo online in 2013 under the title “Responding to the Flu, 1920.”
The photo is captioned, “The Del Perugia family protects themselves against flu, 1918.”
It didn’t mention masks, or the cat, but said citizens did guard themselves with the “best tools at their disposal.”
The University of California also posted the photo as 1920s flu epidemic image from the City of Dublin, California’s Heritage Center.
The description of the photo on that site reads: “By 1919, the influenza pandemic killed between 20 and 40 million people. So great was the fear of contracting this deadly virus that people as far away as Dublin took whatever precautions they could to protect themselves.”
Again, no mention of the cat — or if it too was masked.
But look at it.
Dr. Majumder notes the ongoing debate about whether or not the cat is wearing a mask, or just has a white face marking.
“At best, the cat is wearing a mask. At worst, it’s inconclusive. In either event, all the humans are masked!” she writes.
And ultimately, it’s a good lesson for us all as we ride out wave after wave of COVID-19 hoping endemic status at least is in sight.
Early 20th century masks weren't nearly as effective as the respirators we have today—but we can learn from this family, because they used the tools they had at their disposal to keep themselves & their loved ones safe. Today, we can use KF94s, KN95s, and N95s to do the same.— Dr. Maia Majumder, PhD (@maiamajumder) March 17, 2022
In sum, be like the Del Perugias — and maybe, just maybe, their cat.