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Monday, May 4, 2020

May 4, 2020: American Epidemics: The 1918-20 Influenza Pandemic

[As I draft this series in late March, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to devastate the United States and the world. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of prior epidemics, leading up to a weekend post that I’ll wait to draft until we know more about where things stand in early May.]
On the lessons we can learn from a century-old global pandemic.
This piece for my Saturday Evening Post Considering History column features much of what I would want to say about the echoes between the influenza pandemic (which I won’t call the Spanish Flu for reasons detailed in the piece) and our current unfolding global health crisis, and more exactly what we can learn (in both cautionary and inspiring ways) from that historical moment. So I’ll ask you to check that out if you would, and will just add one further thought here.
I don’t know that I said this clearly enough in that piece, but the Philadelphia parade which jump-started the epidemic in late September 1918 took place after the epidemic seemed to have quieted down a bit over the summer. Yes, there had been news of recent outbreaks on military bases, but it might have seemed that those were isolated or contained. So as much as I hate to say this (and believe me, I really hate to say it), it seems clear that one lesson from 1918 is that we will have to remain vigilant, and quite possibly practice frequent social distancing, well into the fall. As the Dad to two sons who have absolutely hated missing school this spring, and for many other reasons as well, that thought is a deeply unhappy one for me. But it’s yet another lesson we have to be willing to take from the influenza epidemic.
Next epidemic tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other thoughts on this epidemic or any prior ones?

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