You know how they say history repeats itself? It might be doing it again.
I recently listened to a book about the 1918 Flu Pandemic while driving ridiculously far. Because that’s what I do. I listened to the book because I’m an awkward weirdo who likes gruesome history with ALLLL the details, but also because of our current global situation. The thing that struck me was just how eerily similar our situation is now to back then. It’s so similar that I think we might want to pay attention to what happened 100 years ago. Allow me to elaborate.
Side note: this post will be fun for me to come back to in a couple of months and make fun of how dumb I was. Hey, at least I own it! Also, literally NONE of this is researched outside of my reading that one book and watching/reading the news… so ya know. Grain of salt and all that.
I mean, aside from it being 100+ years ago, a few things are different.
Hooray! We have ventilators in 2020! And we also understand what ARDS is (Acute respiratory distress syndrome). We’ve come a long, long way in the medical field all around, so this is definitely a huge difference between now and 1918.
Covid-19 isn’t the flu. In fact, it’s a completely different type of virus. A type of virus, that as far as I know, hasn’t caused this level of mortality in humans before. Even SARS, Covid-19’s dumber older brother, wasn’t this lethal. MERS, Covid-19’s weird-ass cousin, is MORE deadly but is really hard to spread. Nonetheless, this pandemic is due to a Coronavirus, not Influenza.
We’re not at war! Well WORLD war. There’s a bunch of wars going on and the US has troops all over the place, but it’s not like ONE BIG THING. The war in 1918-1919 was probably the single biggest culprit of the spread of flu back then. I’m sure military movement isn’t helping us now… but I digress. It’s a difference.
The other thing about war is that back then the press was being hardcore censored. And the president (Wilson) was just sort of saying whatever he wanted, ignoring the flu, ignoring medical professional, and threatening newspapers that wanted to print honest facts about flu. Oh, wait… that’s actually not that different from today… ZING!
It is unsettling to me how much the Covid-19 Pandemic looks like the 1918 Flu Pandemic
In 1918 the first wave of the flu also happened in the spring, just like Covid-19, but was much milder than what we all think of when we remember the 1918-1919 pandemic. It was bad enough to affect the war, ruffle some feathers, and kill people, but not bad enough to earn the degree of clout the second wave gave the Pandemic. It was scary, but not terrifying. Yet. I’ll talk about that second wave later.
Wilson refused to even acknowledge a flu Pandemic. And once he did he downplayed it. Until he couldn’t anymore and then he passed the buck to the states/ civilians to fend for themselves while he focused on other things (The war). Sound familiar?
Guys, I’m not a liberal OR a conservative. I’m a libertarian. No, we’re not all batshit crazy. Most likely a lot of YOU are libertarians too! More on that some other day. Anywho, Both Wilson and Trump reacted poorly to a pandemic and missed their biggest opportunities to actually have an impact. Enough said.
In 1918-19 the media was crazy censored. While people were watching their neighbors die, newspapers in Philadelphia were reporting that there was no flu outside the military base in the area. Ludicrous suggestions such as keeping your feet dry were published as medical advice, and obituaries were often completely omitted. The media could NOT be trusted.
Sad to say, we can’t trust the media much more today than we could then. While we might have some sort of agreement on rough numbers reported, that’s about it. Unless you make it a point to access many different websites, news channels, blogs, and other resources you’re likely to get a very skewed story. Check out MediaBiasFactCheck.com if you’re curious how your preferred source checks out. Don’t shoot the messenger!
Stay at home orders
Believe it or not, widespread closing of schools, stores, public places, limiting crowd sizes, and ordering face coverings are not unprecedented in this country. Entire towns went on full lockdown back in 1918… and it worked. One of the reasons we know that ‘social distancing‘ works is because, in 1918, St. Louis did it and Philadelphia did not. Bodies were collected by horse-drawn carts in Philly just like during the Medieval Black Death. That did not happen in St. Louis.
There are no medicines proven to help
In 1918 they had no proven medicine to help treat the flu. Doctors were doing things like injecting liquid metal into patients in a desperate attempt to find something that worked. There was no time to test things. Some doctors even resorted to blood-letting! And they all claimed to have some success, even though now we know they actually didn’t.
Sound familiar? How many times a day do you hear that some medications used for something else are ‘showing promise’? People are guinea pigs as doctors try frantically to find something, anything, that works. Not until this is all over will we know what actually helped and what didn’t. Or what downright hurt people.
What can we infer?
Just call me Rebek-strodamus! Because I have predictions!
It’s going to get worse before it gets better
In 1918 the second wave of flu was just plain sadistic in how it attacked mankind. The 3rd wave, that you’ve probably never even heard of, was also more deadly than the first. We’re in the first wave of Covid-19. Cold and flu season is coming. I think Fall and Winter are going to be the real deal. Right now is a fire drill, and based on what’s happened before, I think the actual fire is yet to come. I hope I’m wrong.
Waves are guaranteed
While our current efforts might stifle the virus somewhat, it’s not going to just give up and go away. When I first heard of a potential second wave all I could think was ‘it’s fear-mongering!’ but then I found my trusty book and did some light reading on previous epidemics and pandemics. It’s never just ONE wave. Not with something this contagious. In 1918 the second wave is what people remember because it was so deadly in such a short span of time. But there were several waves AFTER that! For years! Humanity got lucky because that H1N1 flu virus mellowed out and stopped being so deadly. We can only hope Covid-19 does too.
The true toll may never be quantified
It’s safe to say that the numbers we have for Covid-19 are probably wicked off. The true death toll will most likely NEVER be known. The death toll from the 1918 flu pandemic is estimated to be between 20-50M. And rising. That’s a HUGE margin of error.
Some countries will never give an honest report. Others will be unable to. Record keeping will vary all over the globe and all we’ll be able to do is guess. The same goes for the infection rate. We know the reports are low. But we have no way to get an accurate number.
It will ‘End’
Just like the 1918 pandemic, this one will end. We will all pay a huge price in the form of our lives, our wallets, or our sanity. But humanity as a whole will come out the other side of this. There is a lot of talk about ‘the new normal’ going forward, but I think things will mostly revert back to the ‘old normal’ sooner or later. In 2019 none of us refused to shake hands based on the fact that the flu killed millions in 1918. Or even that SARS killed thousands in 2003. We forget quickly.
So while we might have a rough 2020, and most likely 2021, I think we’ll be back to arguing about government shutdowns and raiding Area 51 before you know it.