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The politics of not learning from epidemic history

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, Ph.D OW Contributor | 3/26/2020, midnight

The coronavirus is not the first pandemic the USA and the world have faced. To date, the largest and most devastating was the Spanish Flu a century ago. That infection, which lasted for a little under 18 months, killed more people than any previous infection had done. The most quoted numbers have been between 20 and 50 million world inhabitants. It killed more people than all of WWI, and its morbidity was greater than over four years of monster killers like the Black Death or Bubonic Plague, that almost wiped out early Europe.

In fact, the world disaster called the Spanish Flu has been named the “most devastating epidemic in world history.” Over 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the Spanish Flu between 1918-1919, although less than 100,000 African Americans were part of that number.

In part, this led to the rumor that Blacks were immune to the Spanish Flu. This falsity still exists for this new coronavirus. A review of the records then and now, however, clearly show that Black folks indeed caught the virus, and many of them died (and will die). Whites were (and are) more negatively affected, but Black folks certainly had no immunity then, and have none now. More Whites died then and will die now, but, as is known, there are simply many more Whites in the USA than there are Black folk. At the peak of the Spanish Flu disease in the USA, fully one-fifth of the country's total population were infected.

More important to this review is how did the Spanish Flu epidemic/pandemic end in the USA and the world?

Essentially, the Spanish flu epidemic petered out as the seasons changed in 1919, the politics of crowd control and social distancing had major effects, and peoples' temporary immunity seemed to kick in. A nation-wide effort to change social behavior at least for a sustained period of time definitely helped. The laser focus of public health authorities and workers added to that effectiveness, as well as an uptick in the availability of such public health personnel. Lastly, public leadership remained aggressive in trying different methods until something worked. Leadership was fierce, not theatrical.

President Woodrow Wilson, who also contracted and survived the flu, had one of his finest hours during the fight against the disease.

Against the coronavirus, currently we have instituted massive crowd control, and now seem to be bringing law enforcement into that tactic directly. We have closed schools, theaters, restaurants, and many public places. We have yet to unify a nation-wide effort in this fight, but it's still early.

We still do not have an effective vaccine, and some leaders have encouraged Americans to try any available medicine to see if it works. When that was done in 2018, it led to very large populations of Americans being hospitalized for toxic aspirin poisoning. Hopefully, not a significant population currently will try to heed the advice from Fox News and other sources to follow that route (some people are already threatening to sue for following that kind of advice and having family members die from it).

Clear, consistent leadership helped end the Spanish Flu epidemic/pandemic in the USA, from POTUS to city councilmen. The same kind and level of consistent, truth-telling leadership can help get us to the other side of the river with this new epidemic/pandemic. We strongly urge our elected representatives to step up and keep stepping up until this crisis ends.

At the same time, somebody he listens to must also urge our current POTUS to either provide the leadership and truth-telling necessary for the situation, or to step out of the limelight and out of the way so someone else can get the job done.

In times like these, you are only either part of the solution, or you are distinctly part of the problem.