By Natalie Taylor
Picture a deadly pandemic going into its second year. Government officials insist on the need to continue social distancing, gathering bansand mask mandates. The public, having more or less accepted these measures for over a year, is now pushing back against the mandates. Business owners, clergymen and parents of school children are all demanding a return to reopening those establishments. People are having social events and discarding use of masks.
No, this is not 2021, this is what was taking place in the spring of 1919–a year after the initial influenza struck the world. People were restless, tired, and anxious to return to “normal” life. Officials gave in to the pressure and relaxed the medical lockdown requirements. Soon there was a third wave of infections, and many more people died.
The world has come to the same spot a century later because we are who we are–like toddlers asked to wait and not eat all at once the marshmallows laid before them. Gratification postponement is difficult to handle. A prime example is the recent flooding of young people for spring break in Miami. They are fed with months of restrictions and the continuous barrage of stories of sickness and death. But they, and we, should heed the lessons from the pandemic of 1918. As the old saw proclaims–those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
People’s impatience is normal, but we need to exercise a bit of restraint and truly banish the threat of this pandemic. All pandemics come to an end eventually, the difference is the toll that’s left behind. It is possible to end a global deadly contagion by simply allowing it to kill off all who are vulnerable–the basic tenet of “survival of the fittest.” The bubonic plague killed off between 30 to 60 percent of the population until “there was none left to die.” But there is a better way.
Staying the course with the measures that have been shown to work or prematurely plunging into what life used to be can mean the difference between a new surge of the disease or a quicker end to the viral affliction. A hundred years ago people’s impatience with the flu epidemic and a premature ease of restrictions led to a second and then a third spike and lengthened the pandemic to almost three years. Today we have many clear advantages over our predecessors. Foremost is our greater understanding of hygiene and virology. We know that washing hands with soap and water, using masks, and keeping social distance are absolutely essential in holding off the virus. But above all else is the fact that we have now effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. How foolish it would be to let down our guard when the end is nearly in sight. Although none of us have complete control over our fate it would be very sad to become the last soldier killed as the end of the war is declared.