[Editor’s Note: This selection of readings was first published March 16, 2020, but it is being updated with new stories on an ongoing basis.]

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. In an effort to slow the spread of the disease, schools and universities across the world have transitioned to online instruction. Educators find themselves wondering how to engage their students amidst the developing crisis. We all find ourselves scrambling for information and, let’s face it, ways to make sense of our fear and anxiety.

While JSTOR Daily can’t provide new research on the novel coronavirus that’s causing COVID-19, we can offer important historical, scientific, and cultural context for this unprecedented situation. The essays and articles below—published over the last five years—look at the history of quarantine, contagious disease, viruses, infections, and epidemics. We’ll be updating this as we publish new content. As always, free access to the underlying scholarship cited in the stories is available to everyone.

Considering the Current COVID-19 Pandemic

Kate Moennig in The L Word

What’s Behind the Very Real Butch Quarantine Hair Crisis?

What's a masculine lesbian to do when her hair starts getting too long? Look at history for inspiration.
A man texting at night in his home

Why You Want to Text Your Ex in Quarantine

The psychology behind your urge to connect.
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to reporters following a meeting of the coronavirus task force at the White House on April 6, 2020

Anthony S. Fauci on Pandemic Preparedness

Before he led the effort to contain COVID-19, the nation's top infectious disease expert published several papers about pandemic preparedness. Here are two.
Jennifer Nuzzo

Jennifer Nuzzo: “We’re Definitely Not Overreacting” to COVID-19

Johns Hopkins epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Jennifer Nuzzo on why vaccines aren’t the answer, how COVID-19 is unique, and how to stay safe.
Coronavirus

A Science Reader for COVID-19

Covering concepts from spillover to virus mutation, this collection of free-to-access readings provides scientific context around the COVID-19 pandemic.
3D render of coronavirus

We Spoke to a Public Health Expert about COVID-19

He made us feel better.
Two men wearing and advocating the use of flu masks in Paris during the Spanish flu epidemic, 1919

What’s the Difference between Pandemic, Epidemic, and Outbreak?

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic. What exactly does that mean?
Pneumonia coronavirus

Are Viruses Alive? Define Life.

Scientists have different ideas about whether viruses are living beings. But they have solid advice on how to destroy them: wash up.
Two face masks in front of some text about the COVID-19 virus

When Language Goes Viral

How do innocuous words become insidious in the face of a public health emergency?
A 100 dollar banknote with medical mask.

The True Costs of Managing Pandemics

The fear of the next global virus isn't just media indulging in catastrophizing; it's a collective concern for global economic and political health.
A researcher works in a lab that is developing testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus in New Jersey

With the Coronavirus, Science Confronts Geopolitics

The containment of COVID-19 raises pressing questions related to the freedom of scientific information, civil liberties, and human rights, one scholar explains.
A woman carries a baby wearing a protective mask as they exit the arrival hall at Hong Kong High Speed Rail Station on January 29, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.

The Law and Coronavirus

Can environmental law help contain viruses that spill over from animal to human populations?

Pandemics and Epidemics of the Past

Panel from the Florentine Cortex depicting smallpox outbreaks in the Americas during the 16th century

European Colonization and Epidemics Among Native Peoples

What you learned about the diseases that decimated Native communities is probably wrong.
Photograph showing Waldemar Mordecai Wolffe Haffkine (1860-1930), Bacteriologist with the Government of India, inoculating a community against cholera in Calcutta, March 1894.

Anti-Asian Racism in the 1817 Cholera Pandemic

We should learn from, instead of repeating, the racist assignations of the past.
A typist wearing an influenza mask in 1918

How Tucson Enforced Its 1918 Mask Requirement

During the influenza pandemic, the Arizona city's police force fined and arrested people for not wearing face masks.
Members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union receive the flu shot in 1957

How America Brought the 1957 Influenza Pandemic to a Halt

Microbiologist Maurice Hilleman saw it coming, so the country made 40 million doses of the vaccine within months.
Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, D.C., during the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 - 1919

Surviving a Pandemic, in 1918

A century ago, Catholic nuns from Philadelphia recalled what it was like to tend to the needy and the sick during the great influenza pandemic of 1918.
Flu hospital 1918

The Flu Pandemic of 1918, As Reported in 1918

The Spanish Influenza pandemic 100 years ago was the most lethal global disease outbreak since the Black Death. What were people thinking at the time?
A Red Cross nurse wearing a face mask, c. 1918

The 1918 Parade That Spread Death in Philadelphia

In six weeks, 12,000 were dead of influenza.
A physician wearing a seventeenth century plague preventive costume

How the Plague Reshaped the World

The bacterium that causes the plague emerged relatively recently, as bacterium go. And yet the pandemics it's created have altered the world.
Nurses

19th-Century Nurses’ Fight to Battle Yellow Fever

With warnings that a shortage of the vaccine against the virus could spur on a new epidemic, yellow fever is again in the scientific spotlight.
Little Women

Did Victorians Really Get Brain Fever?

The melodramatic descriptions of "fevers" in old novels reveal just how frightening the time before modern medicine must have been.
A person driving a Mercedes

In Epidemics, the Wealthy Have Always Fled

"The poor, having no choice, remained.”
Doctor Death

Why Did the Plague Continue to Reemerge After the Middle Ages?

New research suggests alarming details about the plague, which repeatedly devastated populations across Europe, Asia, and Africa over the centuries. 

The History of Quarantine

A personification of Acedia from between 1550 and 1625

Ancient Monks Got That Quarantine Feeling, Too

Listlessness, boredom, torpor, that "noonday demon" that tempts you away from spiritual connections—that's what was called acedia.

The Origin of Quarantine

Such forms of enforced isolation are referenced as far back as the Old Testament, while the word "quarantine" itself dates to the late medieval Plague.
Illustration: A mob attacking the Quarantine Marine Hospital in New York because they believed that its use was responsible for the numerous yellow fever epidemics. Original Publication: Harper's Weekly - pub. 1858 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Source: Getty

When New Yorkers Burned Down a Quarantine Hospital

On September 1st, 1858, a mob stormed the New York Marine Hospital in Staten Island, and set fire to the building.
The Decameron by John William Waterhouse

Boccaccio’s Medicine

In the Decameron of Boccaccio, friends tell one another stories of love to while away the hours of quarantine.

Travel, Quarantine, and the Future of Tuberculosis

A 2007 tuberculosis case teaches us about contagion, travel, and quarantine.
A cup of coffee with a red circle and a line struck through it

When Coffee Cargo Was Quarantined

In the 1800s, sick passengers weren’t blamed for disease epidemics—their baggage and cargo was.

Infection and Disease Control

La Malaria by Auguste Hebert

Cracking the Malaria Mystery—from Marshes to Mosquirix

It took science centuries to understand malaria. Now we’re waiting to see how the 2019 vaccine pilot works.

Infection Control 600 Years Before the CDC

Modern health authorities combating the Ebola virus in West Africa might look to medieval infection control for inspiration.
Ignaz Semmelweis

The Man Who Invented Modern Infection Control

He's hailed as the "father of infection control" and the "savior of mothers," but the truth about Ignaz Semmelweis is more complicated than that.

How to Wash Your Hands

The research behind hand washing and MRSA, a resistant bacteria.
Lister spraying phenol over the wound while the doctors perform an operation.

Joseph Lister’s Antiseptic Revolution

Joseph Lister's landmark articles on antiseptic surgery in the Lancet were published 150 years ago. The revolution was not immediate.
John Snow

John Snow and the Birth of Epidemiology

Even though this physician pre-dated germ theory, he was able to track a London outbreak of cholera to one particular water pump.

Public Health

“The Public Health” in 1840

A pamphlet published in 1840 advocates a four-pronged approach to public healthcare that sounds remarkably like our own.
Silhouettes of people in a line wearing masks and practicing social distancing

How the Public Health Community Prepares for Pandemics

Public healthcare experts have been anticipating and planning for a pandemic like COVID-19 for years. These research reports and scholarly articles explain how.
People wearing latex gloves while food shopping in Merrick, NY, March 17, 2020

Could Foreign Policy Stop Another Pandemic?

Diseases know no borders. International cooperation and solidarity, say scholars, are as essential as funding.
scary diseases

Epidemics as Entertainment

Plagues capture the public imagination in ways that other less terrifying--but more deadly--diseases don't.

The Mystery of Super-Spreaders

It’s estimated that roughly 20% of the population are so-called "super-spreaders" who cause 80% of infectious disease cases.
Mid adult man lying in bed looking at thermometer reading

The Science of Fevers

Trying to bring down that fever? Studies show that most fevers are actually integral to effective immune responses.
Therapist communicating with man while sitting by book shelf at home office

How Storytelling Heals

Illness can challenge the notion of the self and disrupt patients' narratives about their own lives. Some scholars suggest that storytelling can help.
What is health

What’s the Definition of Health?

The WHO’s definition has been the target of criticism in the medical literature since its first appearance in 1948.
Public health

A Different Kind of Public Health Message

Researchers have found that Americans experience radically different health outcomes depending on their race and socioeconomic status.
Obamacare signing

Access to Care Is Only Part of Public Health

While the U.S. debate over healthcare has been focused on Obamacare, we’ve been ignoring some other important aspects of health policy.
Scientists collecting sewage sample

The Promise of Sewage

Sewage might be the key in tracking diseases.

When It Comes to Science, Scientists and the Public Diverge

Scientists and the public understand science topics quite differently, according to a new poll.

Welcome Back, Measles

The news of a recent outbreak at Disneyland in California brought measles back into the public view.

Public Policy at the Limits of Science

Stefan Böschen and Kevin C. Elliot discuss how science is often misused by policy-makers, adversely affecting public awareness and disciplinary credibility.
woman using laptop

Does Online Therapy Really Work?

Services like BetterHelp and Talkspace allow users to find therapists online, and conduct sessions through a mix of texts, e-mails, and video calls.

Why Racism Is Terrible for Everyone’s Health

Heather Gilligan explores the impact of racism on the fight towards universal health care.
A depiction of cholera by Robert Seymour

Disease Theory in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man

Shelley's third novel, about the sole survivor of a global plague, draws on the now-outdated miasma theory of disease.

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