Lessons From the 1918 Influenza Pandemic on How to Celebrate the Holidays Amid COVID-19

A cartoon from the December 6, 1918 issue of The Fort Wayne Sentinel
A cartoon from a copy of the Fort Wayne <i> Sentinel </i> dated December 6, 1918. Acknowledgment -
On December 14, the US death toll from COVID-19 reached a new milestone: 300,000 Americans were killed. That's nearly half of the 675,000 Americans killed a century ago during the 1918 flu, the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, historian Christopher Nichols pointed out on Twitter. The current wave of COVID-19 infections is the worst in the country and, as TIME reported, cases are expected to increase further after Christmas and New Years Eve.
The rapid spread today is in stark contrast to that time more than a century ago in 1918. After a first wave in spring, a more deadly and contagious second wave struck in early autumn. Cities that quickly implemented control measures (mask mandates, closings of schools and public spaces, etc.) and kept them in place longer had lower death rates compared to cities that took fewer of these steps and for a shorter period of time, a 2007 JAMA Study found. In cities in the northeast and parts of the Midwest, the virus seemed much less threatening during the 1918 vacation, to the point where Americans believed they could safely rally. However, in the western United States, the virus emerged later in the fall, so the 1918 flu posed a greater threat to those on the west coast than the east coast in November and December.
If you look at the parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 pandemic flu, the story offers several lessons about how and how not to spend those vacations.
"History is not a perfect template," says J. Alexander Navarro, associate director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and co-editor of the 1918-1919 American Influenza Epidemic: A Digital Encyclopedia. “These are different epidemics, different schedules, and two very different diseases. While both are respiratory diseases, COVID is far more contagious than the 1918 influenza ... By 1918, when you come for Thanksgiving and then Christmas, the worst is over, the large-scale collection bans and shop closings, the closings of places of public entertainment are essentially over. Most congregations held Christmas services. "
Despite the fact that the two viruses are very different, peaks appeared then, as now, after small family holidays.
Health officials in Columbus, Ohio followed a flare-up of 27 cases to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by an elderly woman and attended by her seven married sons and daughters. The Ohio State Journal on Dec. 5 reported that the acting state health commissioner said the flu was "a quarter" as deadly as it was in October, and occurs primarily in children, due to the reduced death rate: "People have learned to how to do it Treat an attack by going to bed and staying there until you have fully recovered. "
Public health officials also urged those who gathered in person to keep their distance. "You'd like to be a little wary of whose relatives you kiss is the state health commissioner's Christmas council to girls," reported the Ohio State Journal article dated December 21, 1918, headlined, "Kiss-Free Vacation Fighters: Beware of Mistletoe and Beware of Inside Osculatory Indulgence warns Health Chief. "" His advice to young men is the same, just a little more forceful because more important - some girls still adhere to the pre-feminist custom of letting the Companion take the first step the mistletoe is his warning to everyone. "
"Public health officials figured out which tools worked in 1918," says Christopher Nichols, director of the Oregon State University Center for the Humanities. “They are careful if they jump into it excessively or are too proactive. You are tracking data and diseases much better than before. This can be found in the city's records. You learned what works and what doesn't. "
"The danger does not lie in the overcrowded trams, but in indiscriminate visits to houses where influenza is or has been infected," said Dr. M. Victor Safford of the Boston Department of Health on December 12, 1918 Boston Globe article. "Most of the influenza cases reported in Boston today have resulted from visits to the homes of people who have, or are, infected with influenza."
"Do the people of Milwaukee want Christmas this year?" was the Lede of the Milwaukee Sentinel on December 16. City Health Commissioner George Ruhland said: “Since the health department has not specifically ruled against such social gatherings, some people seem to believe that they are free to go along with their own wishes. That's unfair. It means seeking private pleasure when community health is at stake. '“
“For me the most compelling lesson is that most people celebrated Christmas holidays with their families in 1918. For me, the result was what is known as the third wave, which began in mid-January, ”says Howard Markel, doctor and director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and co-editor of The American Influenza Epidemic 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia . “Holding [G] while this virus was still around was not a good thing. It resulted in more cases and more deaths. And similarly, you gather today not only at your own risk, but also at the risk of many others around you. "
He also points out that people did not get on planes to travel as many families lived in the same city and in multi-generational homes.
Although 1918 health officials didn't know whether they were fighting a virus or bacterial infection, they knew that masks combined with social distancing and frequent hand washing slowed the spread of the virus.
This knowledge is evident in the cartoon (shown above) posted on the front page of Fort Wayne Sentinel, Indiana on December 6, 1918, depicting two flu bugs that masked vacation shoppers cannot infect. The Chicago Tribune also published the following guidelines for buyers in its December 16, 1918 issue:
"For the sake of your health, do your Christmas shopping early.
Make yourself comfortable this year. Don't try to do too much in a day.
Stay away from the department store crowds by shopping early in the morning when the sun is shining ...
Don't be afraid of the flu, but keep your strength, get as much fresh air as possible, avoid excess, avoid overheated and poorly ventilated gatherings. "
On December 21, 1918, Salt Lake City experienced a surge of shoppers tired of war rationing and quarantine. Salt Lake Tribune reported, “Thrift and thrift have been practiced at a significant rate over the past year, and Spanish influenza has hurt business at an almost alarming rate. But the holiday spirit is overseas in the country and the flu is not as much of a threat as it was a few weeks ago. "
In Los Angeles, the health commissioner blamed Christmas shopping for a spate of new cases.
"There is no particular discomfort about the increase in cases - in fact, the local health authorities have predicted it and are pleased that it is no greater," reported the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 28, 1918. "After Thanksgiving, before the quarantine law in Strength stepped up, the cases almost doubled for a few days. The quarantine has shown that it is effectively controlling the situation here, and strict adherence to its rules will soon bring the bugs up to date. "
Similarly, the format of New Year's Eve celebrations varied depending on the state of the epidemic in a particular city. Denver social clubs have canceled New Year's Eve balls and Christmas parties. In Dayton, Ohio, the newspapers reported that life went on as if the flu hadn't happened. Cabarets, theaters and hotels opened their doors, according to the December 31st edition of the Dayton Daily News. The December 31st issue of the Omaha Daily Bee reported that "New Year's Eve will be gay with watch parties" because the city lifted the bans on parties but adhered to the dance ban and social clubs rushed to organize gatherings to attract soldiers to chat.
While Americans had plenty to celebrate on the 1918 vacation between the perceived containment of the virus and the Armistice of World War I, not everyone could muster the usual holiday cheer with empty place settings at holiday dinners, either because of those serving overseas or loved ones, who died in the pandemic.
On the day after Christmas, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, “The observance of the day was possessed everywhere by a calm dignity that reflected the deep feeling of the townspeople. Quite a few houses were saddened by the devastation of the influenza epidemic to a degree more darkly than in their previous history. "
With most flu deaths in 1918 between the ages of 20 and 40, many children had lost their parents by Christmas. "On a special train the other day, 100 real, living Christmas dolls were sent from New York to many homes in the West," reads the caption for a group of children holding their toys on the front cover of December 13 Indianapolis star articles "Tots Made." Orphans by Ravages of 'Flu' come as Christmas gifts for new homes. "
The 1918 flu dragged on through the winter of 1919, and some cities that faced new cases after the holidays reintroduced public mask mandates. An "Anti-Mask League" was founded in San Francisco in mid-January 1919, which responded to such a mandate after 600 new cases of influenza had been reported on January 10. Some people were definitely tired of wearing masks, but they weren't. It's as politicized as it is today. "People are opposed to these recommendations [currently]," said Tom Ewing, a professor of history at Virginia Tech. “Not because they have a scientific basis for it. But because they don't like to know what to do, or because they don't believe the people who say this, or because there is political motivation. And that was not the case in 1918. There are only people who have not followed the instructions. And there have been people who have said, "The government can't tell me what to do," but not in the organized way we're seeing in 2020. "Globally, around 500 million people were infected with the 1918 flu - or around a third of the population - and at least 50 million died. As Markel and Navarro previously told TIME, the 1918-1919 pandemic is set to end because of today's 'herd immunity' meaning that the virus infected enough people that there weren't enough people susceptible for the virus to spread at the pandemic level. Although COVID-19 vaccines are starting to be given worldwide, many have to wait several months Public health officials are urging Americans to continue wearing masks and social distancing so that as many Americans as possible can celebrate next year's holidays - wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings large and small indoors were critical to slowing the spread of the virus in 1918a men. As Nichols puts it, “The December holiday season was a culmination of the lessons of 1918. The implied subtext of shouldn't it be 2020? "
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