Shoals locals on the parallels between polio and coronavirus

Shoals locals on the parallels between polio and coronavirus
Shoals local recounts living through polio (Source: WAFF)

FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - For many us, COVID-19 is the first pandemic we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

But Americans over the age of 70 have seen something similar before the polio outbreak that covered the first half of the 20th century.

And it hit home in the Shoals community with an outbreak in 1936.

Polio has nearly been eradicated from the world today, but in 1936 and for years on it was a frightening presence here in the Shoals

Lila Mullins remembers all too well because she grew up in the Shoals during that epidemic

“The reason why I remember it was so well was because they closed the movie theatres down when the virus hit,” said Mullins.

Polio was particularly active in warm months and could be transmitted easily through contaminated water.

Newspaper advertisements gave tips to parents on how to keep their children safe from the disease

“And they closed down the private swimming pools when the virus hit, and they didn’t want people gathering in groups similar to what we have today,” said Mullins.

She recalls the community rallying together behind one common cause.

“I remember how everybody cooperated and nobody seemed to mind. All we thought about was trying to get control of the virus,” said Mullins.

It was many years before a vaccine was produced, 1955 to be exact.

Bill Clemons was a senior in high school.

“I remember my mother and dad going to school and they distributed and they distributed the vaccine on lumps of sugar and everybody took it,” said Clemons. “There weren’t any questions about it. They were glad to get it because they had lived with polio all of those years.”

Mullins says the biggest difference from then and now is communication.

“When polio first hit as I said we didn’t have electricity all we had was a radio and it ran off of a battery,” said Mullins.

But even with updated technology, 65 years later, in a way, history is repeating itself.

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