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  • Lilly Robbins Brock

PANDEMIC NOW and THEN

As we all endure this killer virus in 2020, it brings to mind what life was like 102 years ago.

In September 1918, there were two killers in the world.

World War I (the Great War) claimed 20 million lives by its demise and the Spanish Flu killed approximately 50 million people, which was 28% of the world population.

At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat the killer flu strain. The first flu vaccine appeared in America in the 1940s. Presently, in 2020, we find ourselves in a similar situation. However, today, we are given hope with the announcement that the FDA has approved one or two drugs that will be used to treat those who are infected. A vaccine is in the works but of course will take time through trials. I thank the volunteers in our state of Washington who have volunteered to participate in these trials.

More US soldiers died from the flu than were killed in battle during the war. Troops moving around the world in crowded ships and trains contributed to spreading the flu. Imagine all the soldiers who came home after the War while infected.

On a personal note, my mother was born December 12, 1918 while her mother had the flu. My grandmother was a fighter and survived.

We are so much better off in 2020 than those who endured the flu in 1918. While we isolate ourselves, we at least have access to the outside world and our friends and family. The people in 1918 didn’t have televisions, cell phones, laptops and tablets. As grandparents, our grandson is off limits to us at this time, but we’re using Facetime. It’s wonderful. What miracles we have compared to what was available in 1918. Thank you to everyone who is doing their part to help reduce the curve. The American spirit is as strong as it was in 1918.

If you’re interested in reading further, I would like to take advantage of some of my past historical research and share an excerpt from the book, Ever A Soldier, I wrote about a World War II veteran. He turned 100 years old shortly after I presented the book to him. I was so happy to honor him in the last year that he lived. As always, I included historical notes based around his timeline.

This hero was born in Lewiston, Idaho. He was just over a year old when the Spanish Flu epidemic reached Idaho in early October of 1918. Idaho’s State Board of Health issued a statewide order effective October 10, 1918, prohibiting all public assemblies. When a train or automobile passed through town, the occupants weren’t allowed to stop. Then on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in that year of 1918, the Great War ended. It became known as the war to end all wars. When Idahoans learned about the Armistice, they were ecstatic, and threw caution aside as they gathered to celebrate. The result was catastrophic. The flu was unstoppable, and thousands became infected.

Hospitals and personnel were strained to the maximum. Businesses came to a standstill. Anyone who ventured outside was required to wear cotton gauze masks. The quarantine, which included guarding each county’s border, continued until March of 1919, when the pandemic finally came to an end.

Stay safe and well everyone!



The Red Cross in 1918 Pandemic.

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Cathlamet, WA 98612, USA

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