COVID-19 has thrown our lives into upheaval. There have been thousands of US deaths and tens of millions of job losses. As states roll out plans to lift shutdown restrictions, many of us are eagerly awaiting the days when we can get our lives back to normal.
Even with the staggered openings and multistage plans in place, we are still at risk of a second wave of COVID-19 – especially since there is no vaccine happening in the near future. We are already hearing reports of second waves of the virus impacting other countries. In Hokkaido, Japan, the governor lifted its three-week state of emergency only to have to declare another state of emergency less than a month later when hit by a second wave of COVID-19. Furthermore, scientists are concerned that “as economic activity increases across China in the coming weeks, local or imported infection could lead to a resurgence of transmission.”
With so many remaining unknowns, experts are still trying to understand how COVID-19 spreads and provide suggestions for reopening the economy based on what they do know. The problem is that there is still a lot they don’t know. For example, we don’t know if people who have already had the coronavirus are immune to it.
We can hope that the numbers in the U.S. will continue to drop, and that we will never have to face this virus or another one like it again anytime soon. But, as our past history and present history suggest, we should be prepared for the possibility of a second wave.
The eerie similarities between the Spanish flu and COVID-19
While this is likely the first time most of us have lived through a pandemic, it is not the first time one has affected the U.S. The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 led to the deaths of more than 50 million people across the world and between 700,000 and 1 million in the United States. In the U.S., the Spanish flu hit major cities, such as Boston, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia first.
The Spanish flu began to spread in the spring of 1918. Public gatherings were canceled, schools were closed, and there were shortages of face masks during the first wave. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, even though America did its best to fight the spread of the virus, the second wave hit much worse. The second wave of the Spanish flu hit between September and November 1918, resulting in 195,000 American deaths in October alone. And, a third wave of the Spanish flu occurred during the winter of 1918, resulting in even more deaths.
The history of the Spanish flu shows the deadly consequences of letting one’s guard down or being too slow to take action.
The devastating effects of Philadelphia’s WWI parade
Against the advice of infectious disease experts, Wilmer Krusen, Philadelphia’s public health director, told the citizens of Philly that the Spanish flu was an “old-fashioned seasonal flu.” He insisted on moving forward with the Liberty Loan parade on September 28, 1918. Krusen felt the parade must go on because it would “raise millions of dollars in war bonds.” Philly residents listened, and a large crowd came to participate in the parade or celebrate on the parade sidelines.
According to the History Channel, “Just 72 hours after the parade, all 31 of Philadelphia’s hospitals were full and 2,600 people were dead by the end of the week.” The Spanish flu ransacked the city. The police force was crippled by officers who suffered from the “blue flu,” and even telephone communication was hindered as switchboard operators became sick.
How San Francisco’s misplaced trust in masks failed their citizens
As the Spanish flu spread across the U.S., the health officials of San Francisco put their faith in face masks. Citizens were required to wear face masks when in public by law. They could be arrested or fined if they were caught not wearing a face mask. Since officials touted lower infection rates in October 1918, they mistakenly believed this was due to their strict adherence to face masks.
San Francisco residents celebrated surviving the second wave of the Spanish flu on November 21, 1918, by throwing away their face masks and opening public gathering places, such as movie theatres and businesses. Unfortunately, new cases of the flu appeared just two weeks later. The area was hit by the third wave of the Spanish flu in winter and “ended up suffering some of the highest death rates from Spanish flu nationwide.”
St. Louis flattened the curve
While Philly was preparing for the Liberty Loan parade, St. Louis was doing everything it could to flatten the curve. City officials closed schools, churches, playgrounds, and any other places where people gathered. The city also set limits on the number of people on streetcars and staggered working hours. As a result of limiting crowds and promoting social distancing, St. Louis saw less than half the deaths of Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, St. Louis let their guard down a little too early. When officials felt the numbers suggested the pandemic was ending, they lifted some of their social distancing mandates. Then, their number spiked. Upon seeing the numbers rise, health officials returned to the previous social distancing measures.
Seattle took advantage of the time to prepare
Since the Spanish flu hit other big cities first, Seattle had time to prepare. They took what they saw happening in other U.S. cities, and put plans into action to protect their citizens. Before the Spanish flu peaked in Seattle, public health officials took drastic measures to close schools and prohibit public gatherings. These restrictions stayed in place for six weeks, and, as a result, Seattle had lower mortality rates than other big cities.
New York’s fast actions saved lives
While COVID-19 has devastated New York, the Spanish flu did not. According to National Geographic, “New York City, which reacted earliest to the [Spanish influenza] crisis with mandatory quarantines and staggered business hours, experienced the lowest death rate on the Eastern seaboard.”
Don’t fear, prepare
If there’s one thing we can take away from the stories above, it’s that we need to stay alert. Learning from history doesn’t mean we have to live in fear, but it does mean we should prepare in case history repeats itself.
Take time to consider what we have learned from history, as well as the current COVID-19 situation. Then, take steps to better prepare for a regional quarantine due to a possible second wave. This type of thinking will also help you get ready for a different disaster situation (there are many things we should prepare for) where you may be forced to survive independently.
Until next time, don’t fear, prepare.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply