Photo by Edward A. Rogers, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

By Reece Roth

With the current state of the planet, many have been looking back on previous diseases and how they’ve swept through the world. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is not the first that Earth has experienced, and the one that many seem to be reflecting on now is the 1918 flu pandemic.

The 1918 flu pandemic was an outbreak of influenza that lasted from January 1918 to December 1920. During this period, the disease had infected over 500 million people. It was reported that approximately 50 million people died during this pandemic, and about 675,000 of those deaths occurred in the United States.

“Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic,” states an article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussing the rate of fatality during the 1918 pandemic.

Looking at the statistics of COVID-19, it’s not very common for younger, healthier people to die from the illness, and the majority of those affected are older folks with histories of chronic illnesses.

Back in 1918, the concepts of quarantine and social distancing was different than it is today. Lockdowns had been put in place, but the rules listed were not the same as lockdown rules in 2020. Many government officials now have ordered all non-essential places to close completely. Back then, however, this wasn’t the case, and some places were allowed to remain open with certain restrictions.

“To the chagrin of those suffering Salt Lake City actors, not all cities closed their theaters. In Hamilton, Montana, local policy allowed movie theaters to stay in business as long as customers left a seat between each other,” reads an article from Slate that discusses life during quarantine in 1918.

Since technology was much more limited a century ago, most people were required to leave their homes in search of entertainment. Actors weren’t able to continue with work digitally, so they still had to perform live on stage in order to keep up with their work, which only put them more a risk of contracting influenza.

On the topic of technology, a lot has changed in the past hundred years. We’ve seen many advances in all kids of technological fields. For those in quarantine today, there are still many different ways to keep ourselves occupied. Most people will resort to binge watching Netflix or playing video games, and they can communicate with their friends and family via text and social media. In 1918, none of those options were available, so there wasn’t as much for people to do while stuck inside. Communication was much limited back then, so it was difficult for people to contact their loved ones. Technology today is greatly taken advantage, and many people wouldn’t understand how difficult it would be to stay in touch while stuck inside.

The 1918 flu pandemic and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic are both very different times in history. Due to this, those caught in these times have had many different experiences. With the advances in technology and medical knowledge, people in 2020 are able to stay together easier than those in 1918.