People took the flu pandemic measures a hundred years ago when they were tired of them – and they paid a price

Picture of the United States struggling to deal with a deadly pandemic.

State and local officials are enforcing a slate of social distance measures, collecting bans, closure orders and masonry orders in an effort to stop full-blown cases and deaths.

The public responds with broad compliance mixed with more than a suggestion of protest, push back and even a defiant challenge. As the days turn into weeks turn into months, it will be harder than suffering.

Owners of theater and dance halls complain about their financial losses.

Bemoan clerics close while offices, factories and in some cases even cellars are allowed to remain open.

Officials argue whether children are safer in classes or at home.

No mask, no street car service in 1918.
Universal History Archive / Universal Image Group via Getty Images

Many citizens refuse to wear a face mask while in public, some complain that they are uncomfortable and others argue that the government has no right to infringe on their civil liberties.

Given how familiar it may be in 2021, these are true descriptions of the U.S. at the time of the 1918 flu pandemic. In my research as a medical historian, I have seen time and time again the many ways in which our current pandemic mirrors the one experienced by our ancestors a hundred years ago.

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, many people want to know when life will return to what it was before the coronavirus. History, of course, is not a true template for what lies ahead. But the way Americans emerged from the previous pandemic could be what post-pandemic life will be like at this time.

Sick and tired, ready for the end of a pandemic

Like COVID-19, the 1918 pandemic struck hard and swiftly, ranging from a small number of reported cases in a few cities to national upheavals within a few weeks. Many communities issued several rounds of different shutdown orders – matching the ebbs and flows of the epilepsy – in an effort to monitor the disease.

These social distance commands worked to reduce cases and deaths. Just like today, however, it was hard for them to keep up. By late autumn, just weeks after the social speed orders were executed, the pandemic seemed to be coming to an end as the number of new diseases declined.

masked writer at work
People were ready to do it with masks as soon as it looked like the flu was fading.
PhotoQuest Images / Archive through Getty Images

People were shouting a return to their normal lives. Businesses pressured officials to allow them to reopen. Believing the pandemic was over, state and local authorities began to dispel public health attitudes. The country turned its efforts to deal with the devastating flu.

For the friends, family and colleagues of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died, life after a pandemic was full of grief and sorrow. Many of those who were still recovering from the blows with the lawsuit needed support and care while they were recovering.

At a time when there was no federal or state safety net, charities began to take action to provide facilities for families who lost the bread winners, or to remove the countless children who left the disease. -into.

For most Americans, however, life after the pandemic seemed to be the norm. Hungry for weeks of their city nights, sporting events, religious services, classroom interactions and family gatherings, many wanted to return to their old life.

Taking comments from officials who – somewhat prematurely – had stopped the pandemic, Americans rushed to return to their pre-pandemic practices. They packed into movie theaters and dance halls, packed into stores and shops, and gathered with friends and family.

Officials had warned the country that cases and deaths would continue for months to come. But the burden of public health now lay not on policy but on individual responsibility.

The pandemic seemed to be on the rise, extending into the third deadly wave that lasted in the spring of 1919, with the fourth wave hitting in the winter of 1920. Some of the officials blame the resurgence on careless Americans. Others were reducing the new cases or turning their attention to more routine public health issues, including other diseases, restaurant inspections and hygiene.

Despite the persistence of the pandemic, the flu became the old news. At one time as a regular part of front pages, it was quickly reported down to small sporadic pieces buried in the back of country newspapers. The country continued, insured against the tax the pandemic had taken and the deaths yet to come. People were largely willing to return to public health measures that were socially and economically upset.

a masked barber shakes a customer
Whatever the age, parts of daily life go on even at the time of a pandemic.
Chicago Museum of History / Archive Photos via Getty Images

It’s hard to hang in there

Our ancestors can be forgiven for not staying any longer on the course. First, the country wanted to mark the recent end of World War I, an event that could be bigger in American life than even the pandemic.

Second, deaths from disease were a much larger part of life in the early 20th century, with outbreaks each year killing diphtheria, measles, tuberculosis, typhoid, whooping cough, scarlet fever and typhoid each year. tens of thousands of Americans every year. Moreover, the cause or epidemiology of influenza was not well understood, and many experts still believed that social distance measures had no effect.

Finally, there were no effective flu vaccines to free the world from the scourge of the disease. Of course, the influenza virus would not have been detected for another 15 years, and safe and effective vaccination was not available to the general public until 1945. With the limited information available and the tools available get, Americans could suffer public health. restrictions as far as they could reasonably afford.

One hundred years later, and a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable that people are now too eager to return to their old life. The end of this pandemic will inevitably come, as it has on everything before.

If we have anything to learn from the history of the 1918 pandemic, as well as our experience to date with COVID-19, however, a premature return to pre-pandemic life is likely to be in jeopardy. more cases and more deaths.

And modern Americans have great advantages over those of a century ago. We have a much better understanding of virology and epidemiology. We know that social distance and shelter work to save lives. Importantly, we have a number of safe and effective vaccines in use, with the rate of vaccines increasing every week.

Adherence to or reduction of these coronavirus-fighting factors may mean the difference between the progression of a new disease and an earlier end to the pandemic. COVID-19 is much more susceptible to influenza, and a number of difficult SARS-CoV-2 modifications are already spreading across the globe. The third deadly wave of flu in 1919 shows what can happen when people take a break too early.

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