It was bad.

People were afraid to leave the house. Those who had to go to work took all measures they knew of.

So many Americans were ill the government closed schools, theaters, churches and places people congregated. Business suffered because of employee absences. Crops were not harvested for lack of labor. The economy stuttered.

This isn’t about the new coronavirus but the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

Numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths grow each day. The news will probably get a lot worse before it gets better. Coronavirus infection will spread and show up as blooms.

We know more about public health than we did in 1918. Computers can predict the flow, and we have communication advantages that did not exist in 1918. We also know more about prevention.

People evacuating China are not even riding in passenger airplanes but on cavernous Boeing 747 cargo airplanes without windows. Pallets of seats are slid into the main level and locked to the floor as if they were pallets of cargo. Self-contained lavatories and galleys are quickly installed, secured, plugged in. As you view images notice there are no overhead bins and the ceilings are lofty.

There wasn’t much that medical science could do for patients in 1918 and many doctors were at war or sick themselves. Nurses and medical students filled in.

Doctors didn’t know what caused the flu nor how to treat it. There were no vaccines.

Whole families died at home while many in the military caught the flu. More soldiers died from the flu than were killed in combat. The flu nearly immobilized the Navy.

The military helped spread the virus by shifting personnel around on packed ships and trains.

People stopped shaking hands, checking out books from libraries. They avoided trains and buses. Local regulations prohibited spitting in public places.

Nearly a half billion people were infected and tens of millions died. It was more than an epidemic: This was worldwide. One of the deadliest pandemics in history.

Usually the very young and very old are the most likely to succumb to infections but the Spanish flu seemed to focus on those in their middle years.

Location wouldn’t save you. It didn’t matter where on earth someone lived, the flu found victims all over the world.

My grandfather and two of his brothers had the flu but their wives did not. They all survived.

The National Institutes of Health is working on a coronavirus vaccine and will have one soon but it will not be ready for clinical trials for weeks or months and availability is a year away.

At least.

In the meanwhile avoid sick people and get your flu shot when it becomes available.

Joe Phillips writes his “Dear me” columns for several small newspapers. He has many connections to Walker County, including his grandfather, former superintendent Waymond Morgan. He can be reached at

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