Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier online editor
Mark Twain is quoted with saying “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” In the case of COVID-19, there is a historical event that it rhymes with: the 1918 flu pandemic.
The 1918 pandemic saw the death of around 50 million people world-wide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the United States, the death toll was around 675,000. In the current pandemic, there have been 805,765 deaths globally, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The United States has had 174,645 deaths, as of this writing, according to the CDC.
These numbers are currently much lower than the 1918 flu pandemic, but such a difference shouldn’t necessarily be relaxing. In 1918, knowledge about the flu was limited with no effective treatments or vaccines available, according to History.com. There is a similar situation with COVID-19, as scientists race to create a vaccine.
Otherwise, those infected must isolate within a secure location and away from others, according to the CDC. The CDC also recommends that those sick wear masks if they must be around others. Earlier in the current pandemic, many countries, including the United States, had “lockdowns” to try and prevent the spread of the disease by closing businesses and banning public gatherings. There were similar mandates during the flu pandemic.
In St. Louis, MO, schools and movie theatres closed, with public gatherings banned, according to History.com. In San Francisco, CA, citizens had to pay a fine of $5 (hefty for 1918) if they were not wearing a mask and were charged with disturbing the peace.
Thus, it is clear that public officials and leaders played a large role in the spread or containment of the flu. In Philadelphia, Dr. Wilmer Krusen, director of Public Health and Charities, stated that the contemporary illness was simply “the normal flu”, according to History.com. Thus, the city went ahead with its Liberty Loan Parade, which resulted in 1,000 dead and 200,000 sick in just ten days.
Similarly, many people attribute the persistence of COVID-19 in the United States with relaxed restrictions by local, state and national officials. Likewise, many are cautionary with people who say that COVID- 19 is just “the flu,” due to cases being of varying severity with all demographics. Between these similarities and differences, history rhymes: high case numbers with scientists rushing for a cure, isolation for containment and public policy shaping the death tolls of communities and states. If people looked back into history before this pandemic, perhaps there could have been a different story to tell about COVID-19.
While the changes in the last 100 years ought to be noted and appreciated, there are still eerily similar situations and numbers between the two events. If policy makers and government officials cooperated with medical professionals and epidemiologists and gave a clear eye to history, COVID-19 could have been kept within the bounds of months. COVID-19 could have been a new poem, rather than a verse that rhymed with the 1918 flu pandemic.