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“The Impact”: How does the COVID era stack up to the Spanish Flu?

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

Watch “The Impact’ – Oct. 6, 2021 at this link.

One hundred years before COVID-19, the staggering death toll of World War One forever changed the way we think of war. In that vulnerable moment a nightmare variation in a common illness killed more people than all the mustard gas, machine guns, and trench knives combined.  

“People really suffered in extraordinary ways,” said Prof. Nancy Bristo, University of Puget Sound.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now blamed for the loss of more than 675-thousand American lives, surpassing a dark milestone set more than one hundred years ago.  But where COVID has killed around 5 million people around the world within two years, the 1918 Flu pandemic killed 50 million in the same span of time.  

How does COVID stack up to the “Spanish Flu”?

 Nancy Bristow, Chair of the Department Of History at The University Of Puget Sound, sees remarkable similarities in how society  responded to each pandemic, but when it comes to the viruses themselves – there’s no comparison to 1918. 

“People could wake up perfectly healthy in the morning and die before nightfall. Which is hard to imagine, so the sense of impending doom must have been very great,” said Bristow. “Their visage would be purple or black often their hands and feet would as well. They might have blood draining from some of their orifices.  This was an awful illness for people to witness and remember most people were being cared for at home so this was something that Americans across the country were having to see up close.   And I think that certainly adds to the kind of horror of what they went through.” 

Then as now,  elected leaders took extraordinary steps to limit the spread of infections. State and local government officials in Washington imposed restrictions on day to day life similar to the ones we’ve seen over the last two years. 

You couldn’t get on a trolley unless you were wearing a mask.    

Theaters in Seattle were shut down by order of the mayor.   

 Seattle Police even had a dedicated influenza squad, tasked with  breaking up unlawful gatherings and preventing activities that public officials deemed risky.  

Around the country there were temporary hospitals set up outside using tents similar to the Army field hospital set up at CenturyLink Field in 2020. 

Hear more about the ways the people responded that mirror today, including pushback to government mandates and embarrassing incidents involving government officials who didn’t play by their own rules,  in the full interview.

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