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Is history repeating itself?


The Spanish Flu started during the spring of 1918. Similar to other flus, the victims of this first wave of the Spanish Flu were the elderly and the sick. However, the first wave was not the killer wave; the number of cases and deaths of this first wave were similar to those of a typical flu season.

In that pre-air conditioning era, windows and doors to factories, stores, and homes were opened all day during the warmer days of spring. Consequently, with people breathing more fresh air, the Spanish Flu died down during the late spring through early fall of 1918.

A second wave of the Spanish Flu, this time much more contagious and far more deadly, arrived that fall. Unlike the first wave of the Flu, this second wave also attacked the young and the healthy. About half of the deaths during the second wave were people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.

Efforts were made to limit its spread. Factories, schools, churches, and theaters (very popular at that time) were shut down. People were strongly encouraged to wear masks, not to shake hands, and to stay at home. Some people followed the advice of the health experts; others did not.

The second wave of the Spanish Flu spread like wildfire. Many businesses which were still open were forced to shut down because they had too few healthy employees. Hospitals were so overwhelmed with Flu patients that makeshift hospitals were created in schools and other buildings, including private homes. Funeral homes were so overwhelmed with bodies that many families simply took a dead family member straight to the cemetery and buried them. A third, less deadly wave of the Spanish Flu hit during the early months of 1919, but it had weakened by the summer, largely because so many people either had died or had developed a natural immunity because they had suffered through the Flu. Life finally returned to normal in the early 1920’s.

It has been estimated that up to one-third of the population had the Spanish Flu and that as many as three percent of the world’s population died as a result. (Using those estimates, if Covid-19 has the same results, then about 5 to 7 thousand Letcher Countians will catch Covid and 5 to 7 hundred of us will die as a result.)

A famous person (whose identity I don’t recall) said something like “The only thing that we have learned from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

Are all of us following the successes and avoiding the mistakes made during the deadly Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918? Or are we allowing history to repeat itself with COVID-19?

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