WASHINGTON – When the locking of the coronavirus loosened and some Americans flocked to restaurants, beaches and other open spaces for Memorial Day weekend, the question of reopening too soon was about frightening echoes.
The 1918 global flu epidemic remained the deadliest on record. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this pandemic has killed around 50 million worldwide and more than half a million in the United States.
J. Alexander Navarro of the University of Michigan Medical History Center is one of the organizers of the Influenza Archive, a collection of information catalogs and studying the effects of the 1918 pandemic in 43 major US cities.
This research seeks answers to key questions: Was social distance effective in 1918 as a way to slow the spread of disease and save lives?
Navarro said cities that closed schools and banned public gatherings fared better. “Peak They have a lower peak and overall overall cases of morbidity and mortality and death,” he said
A statewide order to make masks mandatory and to close down insignificant business was widespread in 1918. San Francisco, for example, fined individuals who failed to wear masks in public, sparking protests.
Current research traces the success of social distance to facilitate the spread of novel coronavirus points to the same conclusion.
But various levels of enforcement combined with World War I created results in 1918. The fall marked the second and most deadly wave of disease in the United States.
‘‘ Pandemic began in the military camp first and foremost. So the military is working to try and control the epidemic in the camps, “Navarro said.” The average Joe in the fall of 1918 was very busy with things like the Liberty Loan drive. “
Philadelphia’s famous decision not to cancel the Liberty Loan parade in late September resulted in 1,000 deaths in 10 days, making the city one of the hardest hit by the epidemic.
Other cities, such as Denver, lifted the November ban on Armistice Day to celebrate the end of the war, only to experience a more deadly spike.
‘‘ Nearly every city we inspected reported large crowds immediately gathering downtown in shops and cafes and theaters and bowling arenas, ‘Navarro said, adding that crowds occurred on the day when social distance orders were lifted.
Navarro noted that the main difference between 1918 and now is a very different economic landscape – specifically the role of retail, restaurants, theaters and other small businesses.
“They could close public entertainment venues and not have the same impact on the local economy in 1918, because the manufacturing sector was very dominant,” Navarro said. ‘‘ This is an economy built in the service sector. So I think we go in for far greater and more severe economic impacts today than we did in 1918. ‘
As countries continue to wrestle with a pandemic, many reduce restrictions and push to revive the economies that are lagging behind. But leading health specialists warn of a second wave of infections. Navarro is careful about which lessons can be drawn from the past, noting progress in medical science and technology, but points to alarming parallels in human behavior.
‘‘ Although the historical context has changed, there will be a call to return to life as usual, ‘he said. ‘‘ There may be dire public health consequences as a result. ‘
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