A team of health and history experts has recently published an article comparing the 1918 flu pandemic to the current COVID pandemic.
CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Covid-19 pandemic has changed lives all over the world since it started over two years ago. Now, U.S. health authorities are suggesting that a large increase in coronavirus could infect 100 million Americans in the coming fall and winter.
It’s hard news to hear, but it’s not surprising to people who studied the 1918 flu pandemic, which cost nearly 700,000 Americans their lives.
A team of health and history experts recently published an article through the Cambridge University Press, which compares the COVID-19 pandemic to the grim time in history about a century earlier.
The article answers some critical questions about pandemic in general.
“How do pandemics end, do they ever end, and what are the consequences of the pandemic, can we see it historically? What should we be able to expect, or what kind of questions should we ask ourselves,” said Christopher McKnight Nichols, professor of history and director of Oregon State University’s Center for Humanities.
Nichols and other experts who co-authored the report see many similarities between the flu pandemic of the past and our current pandemic.
First, it is very likely that both diseases will stay here and continue to take lives.
The short answer is no, the pandemic is not over. And the long answer: the same with the flu, the flu is still with us 100 years later. COVID will probably still be with us in 100 years
Nichols knows that after two years plus, COVID fatigue is real and understandable. But he worries that, just like in the early 1900s, people who ignore the facts and decide it’s over will make us less secure.
“One of the things you see in the historical record is mayors and other officials hoping the pandemic is over and taking action, even when they did not have vaccines and other things. And then you have higher rises and a another top that is worse. “
Some of the methods of fighting disease have not changed much.
In 1918, Americans were in quarantine using similar hygiene practices and physical distance.
An important difference between now and then is that efforts to develop effective vaccines did not work in the early 1900s, whereas there were three COVID vaccines available less than a year into this pandemic.
Although modern medicine and public health infrastructure have both been significantly improved, Nichols said science is not the final decision on when a pandemic is over.
“From my perspective as a historian, the end of a pandemic is political or psychological. It’s not biological or epidemiological, and it’s something we could get over to people almost regardless of their politics.
So learning from the past basically means realizing that it is up to the public to deal with an infectious disease that is likely to be present for many years to come.
“We need to figure out how we can take these lessons on board and make better assessments in the future, which may mean we limit our lives a bit; and I think we need to be comfortable with that.”
Nichols hopes the article will be used and shared by teachers to help the next generation learn from the past.