It’s very few peoples’ favorite chore even now, but before the widespread availability of washers & dryers, doing the laundry was one of the most demanding and least rewarding essential jobs. Any time after the Civil War up through the first Gilded Age, there was a standing trope about ‘washerwomen’ — drudges reduced by circumstance to picking up bundles of others’ soiled linens, heating huge amounts of water to ruin their hands scrubbing heavy wet sheets, shirts, and undergarments, hanging out the wet results to dry, and then heating cast iron implements on wood stoves to finish the job, before toting the fresh laundry (usually on foot) back to the various customers. Because it was a skill that every woman learned, since most homes already had the basic implements available, and because it was the sort of job that anyone who could afford it would gladly pay someone else to do, ‘taking in washing’ was the stereotypical terrible fate of widow ladies and other unfortunate women.
Since this was something every adult could be presumed to understand, there was also a standing joke about the nation’s capital and its monopoly industry: The city was called ‘Washing Done’ because its inhabitants made their livings swapping each others’ most tedious and demanding chores between them. ‘Washing Done’ was a specific, political catchphrase.
I thought of this when I heard about some of the earliest COVID-19 outbreaks, at places where vast numbers of strangers gathered to enjoy themselves before dispersing widely to their homes: A 40,000-person New Years potluck in Wuhan, various spas and funparks, a Swiss ski resort where the first British victims seemed to have picked up their infections. Tourism has become the go-to industry for many localities, where a comparatively modest expenditure and a large labor pool with few other options can hopefully attract itinerants with money to leave behind. ‘Tourists Welcome’ is our 21st-century version of ‘Washing Done’.
And now it’s reached the U.S., and not just the Disney parks and Las Vegas casinos. From TPM, “An Unexpected COVID-19 Hotspot Emerges In The Colorado Rockies”:
… Brueck would soon become one of the first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Eagle County, Colorado, a region of the Rockies spotted with idyllic resort towns. Dozens of people came down with similar symptoms around the same time.
And the confirmed cases have continued to climb — so much so that Eagle County’s numbers have grown to the “hotspot” conditions found in much larger U.S. cities. As of Friday, there were 61 confirmed cases of the disease there, according to the state — nearly as many as Denver in a county of around 55,000.
While those numbers alone made Eagle County the heaviest-hit county in the state, the disease is likely much more widespread than the confirmed cases let on. Between a hundreds-deep backlog of test results and the typical gap between contracting the disease and showing symptoms, public health officials haven’t been able to track the true extent of COVID-19 spread…