2020 Coronavirus pandemic — a reminder that we’ve been here before

1918 Spanish Flu pandemic
University of California, Berkeley, California, 1919. Open air barber shop during influenza epidemic. (National Archives)

America has downplayed pandemics and rebelled against safety precautions in the past.

With the current coronavirus global death toll of 634,000 and no American-citizen-driven research in their country’s experience with pandemics, some are surprised to learn that a pandemic where American government leaders downplayed a virus’ dangers, recklessly encouraged mass gatherings, falsely declared a deadly virus’ demise, and equated the disease to a “harmless” common flu isn’t new. 

And neither is the response of American citizens to a pandemic, where they prioritized their personal “freedoms over” protecting the public health of fellow citizens — inclusive of the most vulnerable.

Those two forces combined to give the 1918 Spanish Flu a longer and more dangerous life, where three pandemic waves led to 675,000 dead Americans.

The scene is being replayed with today’s coronavirus pandemic.

But since many Americans won’t earnestly review and learn history that’s even two decades old — and with any meaningful level of detail — we will likely see more people die in 2020 than necessary.

Big thanks to reader “Ess” for finding this Spanish Flu documentary on YouTube. Here’s an excerpt from that piece that describes the Philadelphia outbreak back then, and shows how the present can repeat the past:

Philadelphia was ready to hold the Liberty Loan Parade, to sell more [war] bonds. Public health doctors begged the city to cancel the parade terrified it would cause the outbreak to turn into an epidemic .The city government ignored them. On September 28, hundreds of thousands of people jammed into the downtown streets to watch the parade. In that huddled crowd, all crushed together, it only took a few coughing, sneezing people to launch the epidemic. Within 76 hours — just three days later — the city’s 31 hospitals had run out of bed space.

From the documentary Spanish Flu historical documentary Swine Flu: Pandemic Deadly plague of 1918

View the documentary here, or check the embed media below.

In addition, PBS has provided another detailed look at the 1918 pandemic that’s worth exploring.

Like the elders say, learning history will help guide you through the present …

song currently stuck in my head: “butterflies” – reel people

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