The writer outlines the history of the technical concept of social distancing as a response to epidemic and finds that it is a very recent — and originally controversial — innovation.
The story solves a puzzle I had been wondering about. Like others my age I have lived through a couple of epidemics and certainly learned about others, but I had never heard of closing schools and businesses until Covid-19 came along. I wondered where the concept of lockdown as public policy came from.
That the concept originated in the pandemic planning of the late Bush administration doesn’t inspire confidence. That the underlying principle is little more than an ad hoc hypothesis — children interact with large numbers of people on a daily basis — will be a source of lessons learned for years to come.
Chief among them I think will be that in matters of public policy there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want to preserve both liberty and public health during an epidemic there is no alternative to the expense of having adequate quarantine facilities for the sick.