COVID-19: Rivaling for the Deadliest Event in U.S. History
The Civil War for a long time was the deadliest event to occur in U.S. history - the
Spanish Influenza in 1918 rivaled that number closely, but didn’t quite reach it. The coronavirus is now taking its toll on the U.S. population, surpassing the death tolls of both previously mentioned catastrophes.
The Spanish flu occurred during World War I, and, much like the coronavirus pandemic, the numbers of how many were infected and how many died weren’t quite accurate. The Spanish flu got its name as Spain was one of the only major countries neutral in the war, which meant they would be less likely to lie about the true impact the flu had on the country. Others, like Russia or the U.S., would have lied about the impact on their population for fear of being seen as weak. Though conflict is not quite as prominent in 2022, the true numbers of infected and dead are unknown for similar reasons.
Some countries, such as those in Africa, don’t have the resources to report every case of COVID-19. Other countries may have been giving false information for similar reasons stated in the previous paragraph, as they don’t want to seem weak in the world’s quest for power. Much like the Spanish flu, we don’t know the true impact the current pandemic has had on the world, we just know it could be affecting millions of people more than reported.
Worldwide, the Spanish flu infected 500 million, and COVID-19 has only 388 million reported cases, with 77.4 million cases in the U.S. However, the death toll from COVID-19 is significantly larger. Over the span of two years, the Spanish flu killed 675k in the U.S.; nearly 923k have died in the U.S. since the pandemic started in late 2019. In reference to these statistics, the population of the U.S. was only a third of the current population.
A pandemic is still a pandemic, no matter when it happened. The Spanish Influenza was a pandemic, alongside COVID-19, and they used similar preventative measures that we use now. Public health agencies during the 1918 pandemic tried their best to get information out to the general public on safety measures for the flu. They would put up posters and information in newspapers on how to properly wash hands, tried to influence the public not
to sneeze or cough, and quarantined those in hospitals by only allowing so many patients in a room (much like our social distancing now). They also wore masks when they realized it was spread mostly through the air. In 1918 they didn’t have the technology, nor the medicine, we have now in 2022. Public health agencies can get more information out through social media as well as the internet. It is also now understood how much masks, and what kind, can help to prevent the spread of the virus so we can continue our daily routine; though many choose not to practice mitigation.
Many military camps, where the influenza originated in the U.S., practiced social distancing, which was later implemented throughout the rest of the country. They also limited gatherings of people, which resulted in a decrease in cases. This is another preventative measure we use today; staying six feet apart reduces the chances of spreading the virus, as it is most transmissible through the air.
This pandemic has hit us, and the rest of the world, hard. Learning about past pandemics, and how they were handled can help us to understand the extent of our own situation, and how to start to find a remedy. The coronavirus has become the deadliest event in U.S. history, and will continue to climb in terms of those infected, and result in more deaths. We have implemented strategies to contain the virus from what we have learned in past pandemics, such as the Spanish Influenza, but hopefully with our technological
advancements since then, we will find more ways to end the pandemic.
**The statistics from this article were last updated on 2/4/2022. Numbers from the coronavirus pandemic may have changed since this article was written. Please check the worldometer website linked below for more updates.
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic: Response, https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/fluresponse.html.
Helen Branswell Sept., et al. “Covid-19 Overtakes 1918 Spanish Flu as Deadliest Disease in American History.” STAT, 20 Sept. 2021, https://www.statnews.com/2021/09/20/covid-19-set-to-overtake-1918-spanish-flu-as-deadliest-disease-in-american-history/#:~:text=Covid%2D19%20overtakes%201918%20Spanish%20flu%20as%20deadliest%20disease%20in%20American%20history&text=The%20Covid%2D19%20pandemic,of%20the%201918%20Spanish%20flu.
Adam, David. “The Pandemic's True Death Toll: Millions More than Official Counts.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 18 Jan. 2022, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00104-8.
“Coronavirus Cases:” Worldometer, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.
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“United States of America: Who Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) Dashboard with Vaccination Data.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://covid19.who.int/region/amro/country/us.