A “1918 Second Wave” Guide For COVID-19
As many states, including Louisiana, start their reopening phases of the COVID-10 pandemic, many on social media are posting about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. These posts vary from memes, to general statements, to aggressive confrontations with other people. But the context of these posts may be misleading.
The main point of these type of posts seem to center around the "second wave" of the 1918 flu pandemic. The creators of the memes, and people who are sharing them, are all declaring that a "second wave" is coming in the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is true that there was a worldwide influenza pandemic in 1918, and that there can be some parallels drawn between that pandemic and today. But for the most part, comparing the two pandemics is very limited due to the circumstances of the world between 1918 and 2020. Especially when it comes to the 1918 "second wave".
Here's a short list of differences between America in 1918, and America in 2020, that will make the same kind of "second wave" difficult:
- Running Water
- Most of the United States still lacked running water in their homes in 1918 during the "second wave" of the flu. Washing hands, showering, and general hygiene were nearly impossible for most Americans.
- Hand Sanitizer
- It seems like a very basic part of our daily lives now, available at gas stations, dollar stores, and nearly but hand sanitizer didn't exist until 1966.
- Most rural areas in the United States did not have electricity in homes until the 1930s.
- A Health Care System
- In 1918, most doctors worked out of a single office, or a small bag. The idea of communication between doctors through hospital networks was decades away.
- CDC and World Health Organization
- The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention was not founded until 1946, and the World Health Organization did not start until 1948.
- The Internet/Mass Communications
- Information about COVID-19 can spread around the world in less than a second. We can virtually track outbreaks, and share treatment plans around the world. In 1918, there were people in the US who had no idea there was even a pandemic.
- In 1918, many experts had no idea what they were dealing with. Initially, and for most of the pandemic, experts believed they were dealing with a bacterial infection.
- Yes, the terrifying concept of eugenics was a public health policy in 1918, which helped lead to the spread of the virus.
Even with all of those differences between 1918 and the modern day, the biggest reason for the 1918 "second wave" isn't even on that list. It's also something that is completely impossible with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The main cause for the "second wave" in October of 1918 was the end of The Great War, or World War I.
During WWI, the spread of the 1918 flu was accelerated among service members, due to the cramped conditions in overseas warfare. From foxholes to naval ships, soldiers were in close quarters, whether they were ill or not. The flu was just one of many "war diseases", which included dysentery and typhus. The US Navy was estimated to have an infection rate of 40% in 1918.
The end of WWI came quickly in the second half of 1918. The first step of the ending was September 29th with the Armistice of Salonica. The other Central Powers fell like dominoes after, eventually leading to the Treaty of Versailles being signed in June of 1919.
As the war was winding down, soldiers were coming home. Not necessarily, to their doorsteps, but stateside at the least. As these soldiers returned from the battlefield to our shores, or from American bases to their homes, the virus that gripped the military was given a path from shore to shore in the United States. From celebratory parades to basic daily life, the 1918 flu was welcome to spread in a way it had never seen in the previous months.
So, with the basic understanding of science we have today, access to hospitals, running water, hand sanitizer, it's going to be hard to repeat what happened in 1918. It's going to be pretty impossible to do the same since we don't have a Great War wrapping up either.