LETTER: Don’t be a modern Typhoid Mary

Letters to the Editor stock image

As our nation and many other parts of the world “open up” in a loosening of rules pertaining to the control of the spread of the coronavirus, we are likely witnessing the opening up of a pandemic Pandora’s Box.

This is a worldwide problem, but it is also a very local problem, thus my letter. It is prompted by recent visits to downtown Park Rapids and Bemidji. Visiting a number of stores – from small shops to “big box” stores – it was rare to see as many as half of the customers wearing face masks or trying to maintain six feet of social distancing from other shoppers.

We are told by public health scientists and by our own doctors that face masks help protect us from viruses discharged into the air by others, and, even more importantly, they protect others from viruses that may be expelled by ourselves, even if we do not have symptoms of the infection.

I am reminded of the famous Typhoid Mary from a century ago. Mary was a cook in homes of several wealthy New York families around the beginning of the 20th century. Like many in those days, she was not serious about washing her hands. Unfortunately, although she was asymptomatic, Mary was a carrier of the bacteria that caused typhoid disease – then a very serious, contagious, disease.

Health investigators, over time, were able to determine that Mary was the source of a significant number of cases of typhoid fever. Although she did not believe she was responsible for the infections, as she never felt ill. Health officials, knowing better, required her to be quarantined for a period of three years. She was freed after promising, among other things, not to ever again work as a cook.


Eventually, however, she returned to kitchen work, and the resulting recurrence of typhoid cases soon led authorities back to Mary. Thereafter, for the rest of her life, she was required to live and work in virtual isolation. She did not believe she had typhoid, yet Mary was known to have caused at least 50 cases of typhoid fever and at least three deaths!

Unlike many of the catastrophes caused by nature or humans, people like you and me can help reduce the number of cases of COVID-19, the number of hospitalizations and the number of deaths, simply by following the guidelines of the CDC, such as wearing a mask when in a public space. When we go out among our fellow human beings without wearing a mask, even though we feel fine, we could be the present-day version of Typhoid Mary. Who wants to carry that mantle?

What To Read Next
Get Local