The COVID-19 pandemic is the first global health crisis most of us have ever experienced. Unfortunately, it is not the first of its kind throughout history.
Since the pandemic began, many comparisons have been drawn to the Spanish flu of 1918, which lasted two years and took the lives of 675 thousand Americans . Infectious disease experts are using models from that pandemic to make predictions about this one, and things are not looking good.
Photos from 1918 have been circulating on the internet, and they look eerily similar to what we’re seeing today.
When the novel coronavirus first hit North America, there was some confusion surrounding pandemic do’s and don’ts. Since then, the CDC has released clear guidelines about how to protect yourself and your family. They are as follows:
- Wash your hands often. This should be done with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. Always wash your hands after you’ve been in a public space, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Use hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water.
- Avoid close contact. Maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and others.
- Wear a mask. Always wear a mask in public settings and around those who are not in your household. This is especially important when social distancing is difficult to maintain. The mask, however, is not a replacement for social distancing.
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw away the tissue when you’re done, and wash your hands right away.
- Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, faucets, and sinks.
- Monitor your health daily. Look out for COVID-19 symptoms, and do not go out in public if you feel you are sick. If you notice symptoms, seek medical attention right away .
1918: The Pandemic Do’s and Don’ts
Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly), the rules of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic were almost exactly the same as our rules today. A clipping from a 1918 newspaper highlights these similarities. The pandemic do’s and don’ts back then were as follows:
- Wear a mask
- Live a clean, healthy life
- Keep the pores open- that is bathe frequently
- Wash your hands before each meal
- Live in an abundance of fresh air, day and night
- Keep warm
- Get plenty of sleep
- Gargle frequently (and always after having been out) with a solution of salt in water (half teaspoon of salt to one glass- eight ounces- of water)
- Report early symptoms to the doctor at once
- Respect the quarantine regulations
- Avoid crowds. You can get the influenza only by being near someone who is infected
- Do not neglect your mask
- Avoid persons who sneeze or cough
- Do not disregard the advice of a specialist even if you don’t understand
- Do not disregard the rights of a community- obey cheerfully the rules issued by authorities
- Do not think you are entitled to special privileges
- Do not go near other people if you have a cold or fever- you may expose them to influenza and death. See a doctor
- Do not think it is impossible for you to get or transmit influenza
- Do not cough or sneeze in the open
- Keep your hands out of your mouth
- Do not use a public towel or drinking cup
- Do not visit the sick or handle articles from the sick room
- DON’T WORRY 
Then vs. Now
Upon reading those rules, it is easy to see how much things have not changed in the last one hundred years. Just like today, in 1918 there were those who refused to listen to the advice of health experts, despite the fact that it put themselves and their loved ones at risk.
This clipping shows that a century ago we were pleading with each other to do the right thing, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been no different. When asked what lessons experts have learned from the 1918 pandemic, Olga Jonas, senior fellow at the Harvard Global Health Institute, had one disheartening reply:
“There have been many books and papers written about the 1918 flu pandemic, and one of the main themes is how quickly it was forgotten, how fast it disappeared from the political discourse.” 
She notes that every public health emergency we’ve had since then has caught authorities and the general public by surprise, but scientists have not been surprised at all.
“A lesson we should remember is that governments have the responsibility to prepare for a pandemic; they have the obligation to invest in public-health systems to protect their citizens from both the threat and the reality of the next pandemic.” 
Lessons to be Learned
Jonas says that there are lessons to take away from the 1918 pandemic, if we’re willing to listen to them.
“What we know from the 1918 flu pandemic is that the cities or governments that took early action in imposing quarantines, closing down schools, and banning mass gatherings had lower death rates than the places that did less or did it later.” 
She adds that authorities with a clear strategy to communicate with the public about what is happening and what they should be doing are very important to reduce the spread of the outbreak. Accurate communications also reduce substantial economic costs.
“After this pandemic, people are going to be writing papers about inadequate leadership and confusing messages from the White House. Experts know that a lack of clarity during a public health emergency reduces trust, invites rumors, suspicions, and uncertainty, and will have a great negative impact on economic activity.”