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  • Vermilion Voice

Our Future As Predicted By History: COVID-19 And The Spanish Flu

Emergency Hospital during influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas in 1918. Photo Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine

Individuals worldwide are constantly being subjected to coverage of COVID-19 and what it means to economies, businesses, schools, and our own personal lives. As Alberta goes through phase one of reopening and plans a second and third phase of their relaunching strategy, what can we expect our future to look like? According to, phase three (timing to be determined) of relaunch will entail “opening all workplaces and relaxing public gathering restrictions”.

However, our global history predicts a different future. The Spanish Flu (or influenza) pandemic, also referred to “The Mother of all Pandemics”, is being compared to COVID-19, as the primary target of both viruses is the respiratory tract.

From 1918-1920, the Spanish flu swept the world with devastation. The virus seemed to have victims commonly ranging from 20-40 years of age. In Canada, the virus spread from east to west, as soldiers from WWI brought it back with them to the Maritimes, where health authorities were lenient and quarantine guidelines were inadequate. Similar to what we are currently observing in other areas, hospitals during the influenza pandemic were severely overcrowded and understaffed - some even staffed with medical students- especially as healthcare workers fell sick themselves. Quarantines, masks, and the closing of businesses and schools were also enforced and encouraged on varying degrees throughout the country during the 1918 pandemic.

Currently, in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are in the first wave. While the curve is flattening, we need to consider what we observed from the Spanish Flu. If COVID-19 and the Spanish flu continue to be similar to one another, the next waves will be worse than the one we are currently in. According to Parks Canada, 90% of deaths caused by the Spanish flu were in the second and third waves. Although the cause of the second and third waves of the Spanish flu are debated, as well as the possibility of mutations of the Spanish flu, the very idea of more waves of COVID-19 should cause us to question Alberta’s relaunch strategy. It is clear that both viruses are spread through contact and respiratory droplets, so if the cause of the Spanish Flu’s second and third wave was not due to improper social distancing and quarantine measures, imagine the impact relaxed public health measures could have if a second wave of the coronavirus comes our way.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, the death rates of the Spanish Flu were 5-20 times higher than expected. Considering anti-quarantine protests elsewhere, and the amount of individuals who decide not to practice social distancing, what does this mean for us now?

In light of all this information, this means that not only do we need to follow recommendations given by our government, but it is also crucial that individuals use their own discretion and (hopefully) err on the cautious side regarding their own personal social distancing and quarantine measures.

As for us locally in the County of Vermilion River, we haven’t been hit hard with coronavirus; in fact some might not interpret the amount of cases in the County of Vermilion River as a hit at all. Although the County of Vermilion River is nowhere near being a “hot area” in Alberta, this does not mean that our area is “immune” to contracting more COVID-19 cases. Particularly in consideration of possible second and third waves, even in our 6-case County (as of May 21, all recovered), we need to continue with caution and consideration to those around us.

Despite the doom and gloom of what we are facing, fear does not seem to be a proper way of coping. It is important to note that physical health is not the only thing we are struggling with as a global community. Individuals also need to consider and pay attention to their mental health. Regardless of whether or not contraction of the virus has directly or indirectly affected you, the reality we face affects all of us in how often we go out in public, the way we interact with others, and even the way we think about human contact. While the relaunch strategy of our province may be concerning, it is encouraging that the dates of phase two and phase three of relaunch is still to be determined by the Alberta Government. The best we can do is follow government regulations and recommendations, and take our own precautions. Stay safe, and stay healthy.

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