Hello, dear readers. I want to apologize for my hiatus on this blog — so much craziness has occurred over the past few months. Despite having virtually nothing to do…I’ve been overwhelmed.
This pandemic has hit us all in ways we never could’ve expected. And given that this isn’t the first disease to take on the world, it leads me to wonder; could the global crisis have been prevented?
One of the last pandemics to ravage the globe was H1N1 influenza in 1918, more commonly known as the Spanish Flu. The flu hit at the tail end of World War I, and is known to be the most deadly epidemic in history (as far as we know). While the Bubonic Plague, or the Black Death, killed 25 million people between 1347 and 1351, over 50 million died in the two-year rampage of the Spanish Flu. This pandemic was unique; it killed millions between 20 and 40 years old. Unlike COVID-19, which is known to primarily cause death in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, H1N1 went after the healthy too. But when we look at the effects of the 1918 pandemic, there are striking parallels to our current day.
Large gatherings were banned.
People were quarantined.
Masks were distributed, and in some places, required.
Jobs, lives, and families were lost.
The desire to end lockdown and go back to normal life was rampant internationally.
In 1918, exasperated writer for the Municipal Facts magazine wrote “…even the most enlightened citizens will not take the influenza epidemic seriously. They know that it is the most widespread epidemic that has ever visited America…yet when health officers try to impress upon the the public the necessity of following essential rules and regulations, the average citizen simply refuses to heed these admonitions.”
The regulation of masks, in both pandemics, has been equally controversial and similarly ignored.
With the vast commonalities between the 1918 pandemic and COVID-19, one has to wonder how such a destructive occurrence was allowed to happen over a century later. How is it that the U.S. government has gone to great lengths to prepare for an extra-terrestrial invasion or a nuclear war, but was so caught off guard by the much-more-likely event of a global pandemic?
“The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus,” — John Lederberg.
In 2005, epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine of the possibility of a worldwide epidemic, saying “we must act now with decisiveness and purpose.”
Czech-Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil discussed the certainty of a future pandemic in 2008, noting “we did not take any major steps after the pandemics of 1958-1959, 1968, and 2009…eliminating the risk is impossible but making adequate provisions for the next pandemic is not, and it is a far less costly alternative to scrambling after a crisis arrives.” On March 30th of this year, he expressed his shock at “how unprepared the U.S., so often called the only superpower, would be” in regards to our response to COVID-19.
In his TED talk from 2015, Bill Gates warned that if anything were to kill millions of people in the near future, “it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus.” In 2016, he spoke with newly-elected president Donald Trump about the threat of infectious diseases and warned that a pandemic could occur in the coming decade in 2018. He’s repeatedly urged the leaders of the world to “prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war.”
For decades, we’ve had notable experts, scientists, and spokespersons from a variety of fields warning of the dangers diseases pose to our world. With the way our world has scrambled in the face of the current pandemic, it is clear they were not heard. It is said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it — if there is any good thing that comes from COVID-19, it should be globally increased preparedness intended to protect from future catastrophes like this.
We need to learn to set politics aside, listen to our public health experts, and act. We need to invest in research and safety mechanisms in the same way we do for other potential disasters.
We need to do the work to prevent our world from looking like this in the future.
We need to learn from our mistakes.
Your fellow crusader.