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How to remember COVID-19: Lessons from the Spanish flu




How is COVID-19 memorized? As a clue, historians have seen the effects of the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic.

Esyllt Jones, a professor at the University of Manitoba and an infectious disease historian, said, “Epidemic history often ends at the end of an epidemic, but I always thought it was important to find out what would happen to people after that. “.

Jones writes about the effects of a 100-year-old influenza pandemic in Canada, which killed 55,000 people.Not just writing a book Influenza 1918: Death, illness, struggle in Winnipeg, She edited a collection of works, Epidemic Encounters: Canadian Influenza, Society, Culture, 1918-20.

Eyllt Jones, a professor at the University of Manitoba and a historian of infectious diseases, writes about the effects of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic in Canada. (Submitted by Esyllt Jones)

The profiles of the people who died in each pandemic are very different.

In the 20th century flu, “the cohort between the ages of 20 and 40 had a fairly significant family impact,” says Jones.

He says COVID-19 will have a family impact, “but they are not the same.

“No.’How do we help women who have lost their earners?'” Jones says. “The impact on the family will be around the care of our elders.”

Frenzy 2020s?

“There was a conversation about whether there was another kind of Great Gatsby era like the 1920s,” Jones said, referring to the Roaring Twenties, where growth and prosperity were rampant.

“This concept is … a bit of a misunderstanding in the 1920s for the majority of Canadians,” he says. “We are familiar with poverty in the 1930s, but we tend to downplay poverty in the 1920s.

“There is a cool lesson from the post-pandemic era. Many have advocated progressive social change, higher wages, and improved trade union rights since 1919. Most of these things have happened. I didn’t. The federal government is really stepping up. “

A nurse listens to a patient’s heartbeat in the flu ward of Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC. Great flu has killed at least 50 million people worldwide. (Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress / Associated Press)

First person account

There are pictures of the Spanish flu and newspaper records, but there are relatively few personal accounts from the Canadian working class and immigrant families.

“I actually had a lot of trouble finding something like journaling,” says Jones.

According to Jones, in the years following the Spanish flu, many of the public memorials were directed to World War I.

“People who were alive at the time probably didn’t think about it. [the Spanish flu] It was so important in the sense of a big public history. It undermined the ability of society to preserve memory. “

Jones is working with archivists on how to store COVID-19 records, especially temporary digital media records.

“We really need to keep track of what people are doing when the pandemic is over. For over 50 years, don’t just slip, think or talk about it when the pandemic is over. give me.”

“You can’t pull an illness event out of people’s lives and write about it in a narrow way. People’s memories are based not only on big public events, but on everyday life,” says Jones.

“The poor and marginalized people are usually the ones most affected by the pandemic,” said Rory La Roche, who teaches the history of healthcare at the University of Ottawa. (Provided by Lucy LaRoche)

Public health lessons

Lorie Laroche, a social worker and part-time instructor at the University of Ottawa, states that plague and epidemic have “played a very important role in the development of healthcare.”

La Roche teaches the history of health care through the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the Spanish flu is an important element of the course.

“It was really fun to see the similarities,” says La roche. “The poor and marginalized are usually the ones most affected by these epidemics.”

La Roche believes that there are similarities in the way Canadians are gathering to fight COVID-19, as they did in the fight against the Spanish flu from 1918 to 1919. This “kills people faster and actually kills the healthiest people,” says La Roche.

The Spanish flu has also helped drive scientific progress that is very relevant today.

“It really advanced research into improving virology, epidemiology, hygiene and vaccineology,” says La Roche. “There were a lot of good things that came out of [the Spanish flu] That is helping us now. “

Guidance on how to prevent influenza, published in Illustrated Current News on October 18, 1918. (National Library of Medicine)

Wearing a mask during the Spanish flu has become commonplace and continues today as the primary method of preventing COVID-19 exposure. “Are you physically distanced and avoiding the crowd? Everything they discover,” says La Roche.

Laroche points out another similarity. The urge to leave the city to the countryside to escape the worst pandemic and the discovery that travel is one of the ways the virus propagates.

Social isolation during the epidemic did not begin with COVID-19. There were harmful side effects of isolation during the Spanish flu, exacerbated by the lack of a social safety net.

“Because of the blockade, the poor and the elderly,” says La Roche. “Some of them did not die of the Spanish flu. Some of them died of starvation because none of them delivered food.”

During the 1918 pandemic, men wear masks in Alberta. (National Library of Canada)

According to Laroche, there are even records of the effects on mental health during the Spanish flu.

“Increased hunger and suicide [and increased] Drinking rate. “

And some, like some during COVID-19, felt the authorities were overreacting.

“Still, there were people who didn’t think it was that bad, people who believed it was forged, and people who believed it was a publicity,” La Roche says. “It’s the same thing we’re seeing right now.”

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