Coping With Quarantine: John Irvin 'Irv' Nichols


Coping With Quarantine is a recurring feature that examines how people across Greater Lansing are being affected by the coronavirus. City Pulse aims to interview a diverse cast of residents as they adjust to a new lifestyle under the measures taken in Michigan to curb the pandemic. If you are interested in being featured, please contact

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 looks familiar to Irv Nichols. As director of the Michigan Tuberculosis Association for 17 years, Nichols, 95, played a role in containing a deadly communicable disease for which there were no drugs until the mid-1960s.

“It was identical to the kind of thing we have now,” Nichols said. “Contact tracing was the primary thing. You tried to find everyone an infected person was associating with, and either give them a skin test or a chest X-ray.”

Nichols was part of an all-out effort to contain TB in Kentucky from 1948 until he moved to Lansing in 1957.

“We would go into a community and try to X-ray most of the adults,” he said. “We would take those mobile chest X-ray units right down into the creek beds near the mines and X-ray people down there.”

Sadly, he doesn’t see that level of effort now.

“The lack of leadership at the federal level has really hurt us a great deal,” he said. “They knew a problem was coming and there was already a template for what we needed to do, but nobody followed up on it.”

Nichols, a widower, is sanguine about living in quarantine. He lives in the same Lansing house he’s lived in for 63 years. He has no problem wearing a mask when he goes out.

“It’s not so hard on people like me,” he said. “I’m in pretty good health and I don’t worry about a lot of stuff. I can live this way myself, but I feel awfully sorry for those who have lost jobs and those who just can’t stay at home.”

He maintains an almost punishing Zoom schedule with three far-flung children, the oldest of whom is 65, and eight grandchildren. He’s catching up on three books, including “Dark Towers,” David Denrich’s account of Deutsche Bank’s ties to Donald Trump, and devours The New York Times (in print format) every day.

While many of his philanthropic projects, in tandem with fellow Rotary Club members, are on hold, he’s working on a grant to secure funds to furnish a school in Majok-Chedhiop, a village in South Sudan, with chairs, blackboards and other supplies.

He stays in touch with his many Rotary contacts by phone, but he misses Wednesday night dinners with two friends, Dave O’Leary (founder of O’Leary Paints) and a mutual friend, Sue. Next Thursday, Nichols will participate in a drive-by birthday party for Sue, who is turning 80.

“They’re going to put a wheelchair in her driveway, and she’ll sit there and we’ll go by, and they’ll have cupcakes on the lawn for anybody who wants it,” he said. “I’ll be one of those driving by.”

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