I watched a show on CNN today about the 1918 influenza pandemic. Here’s what I learned:
1. The pandemic was “unprecedented” and “gripped the planet”.
2. In the US, the flu was discovered at an army camp in Kansas, where 1000 soldiers were infected. After the United States joined World War I, American soldiers were welcomed to France with singing: “The Yanks are coming!” They brought the flu with them, and it soon exploded in Europe.
3. During the first wave, people who got the flu treated it with a shrug. It was a “three-day fever”.
4. The US President, Woodrow Wilson, never mentioned the flu in public, fearing that it would distract from the war effort, especially recruiting young American men to serve.
5. During the summer of 1918, cases declined. More than one medical expert declared the pandemic “over”.
6. In the second wave, during the fall of 1918, the flu was faster-spreading and far more deadly. People often died within 24 hours of contracting symptoms, their lungs filling up with fluid. Lack of oxygen left some bodies purple or black. Priests walked the streets of some cities, calling to the houses “Bring out your dead.”
7. In September, 2018, civic leaders in Philadelphia wanted their Liberty Loan Parade to go ahead as planned, with the prospect of selling lots of war bonds. There was a surge of patriotism in the community. Doctors asked the city’s public health director to cancel the parade, but he was apparently too afraid of backlash from the mayor, and refused. Days later, thousands in the city were infected and all hospital beds were occupied.
8. Newspapers tended to glorify the war effort and gloss over the sickness. The parade led to headlines such as Fighting men of Navy thrill large crowds.
9. Doctors and nurses didn’t know what they were fighting. Influenza was only discovered by science in the 1930’s. There was no way to treat the disease. One doctor injected hydrogen peroxide into his patients’ veins … half of them died.
10. In various cities, new laws were created. It was a misdemeanor to cough or sneeze without covering your mouth and nose (a fine and/or one year in jail). Spitters were fined. Maskless people were fined or thrown into jail.
11. Masks were often composed of folded gauze, which naturally was porous. Some nurses regularly wore them covering the mouth but not the nose.
12. Since Wilson was silent on the issue, cities coped as well as they could, creating a wide variety of both successful and unsuccessful solutions. Some cities didn’t print the names of the dead, but their citizens knew. Fear escalated. San Francisco was one of the cities that talked straight to the people: Wear a mask and save your life. Their leaders essentially shut the city down.
13. As cases and deaths declined, many cities lifted mask mandates and reopened businesses … too early. Deaths soared and many people refused to put the masks back on when they were remandated.
14. Woodrow Wilson contracted the virus in March, 1919. He came to a meeting of Allied leaders to work on a peace treaty with Germany. His agenda was not to punish the defeated country, worrying that German anger might lead to another “war to end all wars”. Historians believe that the influenza affected Wilson cognitively as well as physically. Apparently he caved in to the demands of European leaders that Germany must suffer for what they did in the war. In the 1930’s, Adolph Hitler emerged.
15. The pandemic lingered until 1920. One third of the world’s human beings were infected. 50,000,000 souls died, at a time when the planet only had one third of today’s population.
16. Near the end of the show, a black-and-white 1918 photo was paired with a coloured one from 2020. Both were of a nurse’s face, only the eyes showing above the mask.
A. Cities shutting down too late, opening back up too soon
B. Crowds gathering when doctors told them not to
C. People refusing to wear masks to protect others
D. “Leaders ignoring science, downplaying the severity of the virus because they wanted the public’s attention to be elsewhere”
Dr. Tony Fauci: [In some respects] “the lessons of the 1918 pandemic were forgotten”
There most likely will be another pandemic
Will they remember 2020?