Charleston’s first epidemic occurred here more than three centuries ago, in 1699, as yellow fever broke out in the new Colonial city. Butler says at least 160 people perished out of an urban population of 1,600 — a 10% mortality rate.
Even if we don’t flatten the coronavirus curve, no one expects anywhere nearly that level today. Italy, which leads the world with 4,032 COVID-19 deaths so far, has more than 60 million citizens, so its mortality rate remains very small.
Of course, Charles Towne colonists could do little to prevent that yellow fever outbreak since it wasn’t known at the time that mosquitoes transmitted the disease.
In 1738, Charles Towne saw its first smallpox outbreak, and Butler notes the mortality rate there was about 5%, as about 300 people out of the city’s 6,000 residents perished. “In 1760, it was even worse,” he adds. “The urban population was almost 10,000, and there were over 730 deaths, over 7% mortality, from smallpox. They were pretty serious events.”
At the time, there was no centralized health
— Mike Mooneyham (@ByMikeMooneyham) March 22, 2020