Precautions of 1918 Spanish flu vs. the Corona Virus

Not to dissimilar to the onset of Corona Virus, a global pandemic struck the world in 1918. The similarities between the two pandemics have often led to discussions of their comparison. What commonalities have the two pandemics had regarding their effect on the world?

Not unlike COVID-19, the Spanish Flu caused a great disturbance all over the globe, generating rules, recommendations, and attempts to come together to induce an end to the pandemic.

Why the Second Wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu Was So Deadly - HISTORY
1918 hospital possessing Spanish Flu causalities [Photo Source: History]
A photo that looks hauntingly similar in NYC at their peak in cases. [Photo Source: NY Times]

Contrary to its name, the Spanish flu is not believed to have started in Spain. The first confirmed case was on a military base in Kansas, but scientists are still uncertain of its place of origin.

The 1918 flu pandemic lasted for two years, and killed around 50 million people. However, while a vaccine was in the process of being made, there were many precautions enforced upon the public. These are not unlike the precautions we have faced since early spring. The following is a copy of a newspaper from October 1918. As can be seen, all public facilities, including churches and schools, were ordered closed.

Now that the pandemic has been in effect for several months, many have found it interesting how other reactions or precautions compare to 1918.

Oct. 5, 1918 front page of The Seattle Times
[Photo Source: The Seattle Times]. Similar cover story in 2020. [Photo Source:


Spanish Flu: Many public areas were closed and shut down due to the rising numbers of reported cases of the Spanish Flu. Including schools, churches, restaurants, and even public transportation was restricted.

Covid 19: In mid March most of America was shutdown and people were forced into their homes. Everyone was instructed to stay indoors aside from necessary tasks. Alike the Spanish Flu public places like schools and transportation were closed down.

Two nurses wearing gauze facemasks and hair nets in 1918 [Source: The Atlantic] and Two nurses wearing PPE in 2020 [Source:]


Spanish Flu: During the Spanish Flu face masks were made of gauze, and heavily enforced. In Arizona, if citizens were caught with out a protective face covering police would fine them $10. In Philadelphia, trolleys advertised “Spit Spreads Death” signs to impose mask wearing.

Covid 19: Face masks today are made of cloth and the intensity of the requirement or recommendation depends on certain establishments and locations. The government strongly recommends facemasks, therefore showing the severity of the situation. However, this is also one of the leading cause of why most people refrain from wearing them.

Posters were made to urge citizens to follow precautions [Photo Source: Forbes]
Poster in 2020 urging safety precautions. [Photo Source: CDC]

Social Distancing

Spanish Flu: When places of work and schooling were shutdown the rules of social distancing began. Regulations were enforced by prohibiting large public gatherings. Alike today this rule was not entirely followed but vastly recommended.

Covid 19: To limit contact with others most establishments enforce the “6 foot rule.” In some often large and crowded places this rule is mandated to stop the spread of germs by requiring people to stay 6 feet away from each other at all times.


Statistics of the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu [Photo Sources: The Conversation]

The Spanish Flu reached its peak in September through November of 1918 killing 195,000 American citizens, and was considered most lethal to ages 20-40. The second wave originated in Europe and was brought to the U.S through soldiers that had been infected.

Statistics of Covid-19 [Photo Source: The New York Times]

Unlike the Spanish Flu, Covid-19 had its first confirmed case out of country in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019. Then in January, appearing in Washington as the first confirmed case in America. Corona hit its peak in July with the highest confirmed cases count of 4,904.


Spain remained neutral during World War 1, so while the rest of the world feared the press would disrupt the war effort, Spain was one of the very few countries to release newspapers covering the pandemic. Therefore, Spain was accused of being the origin place of the pandemic and hence named The Spanish Flu.

[Photo Source: The Guardian and Biography]

Woodrow Willison was president of the United States from 1913 to 1921, so he was in office for the entirety of Spanish Flu. However, Willison’s role during the Spanish Flu was considered to be a failure because of his orders to pursue the World War 1 plans despite the global pandemic.

Alike Willison, President Donald Trump’s reaction to the Corona Virus could also be described as a failure. Trump often voices his opinion on how he doesn’t believe Corona is a threat, when it is obviously killing people. For this reason Trump has faced many complaints on how he is handling the Virus.

“And I said, “Calm. You have to be calm. It’ll go away.”

On March 9 President Trump expressed how little of a concern he had for the virus [Quote Source:]

Donald Trump has also expressed that the reason he downplayed Covid-19 was so America would not go into a panic. There is a possibility that he got this idea from Willison’s approach to the Spanish Flu back in 1918.

While overseas and on bases, U.S. soldiers were attracting the virus, and being reported dead. However, former President Woodrow Willison never fully addressed the disease publicly. Perhaps the secrecy was to not alarm the public, or maybe it was to allow World War 1 to come to a close.

The 1918 Spanish Flu [Photo Source: The Conversation]
Today’s army wearing masks to prevent cases. [Photo Source:]

There are many reasons why the Spanish flu is alike todays Covid-19, however, there are also many differences. The world is much more advanced now then it was in 1918, and even todays technology cannot promise a vaccine to be released soon.

Moving forward in the midst of the 2020 Corona Virus we should be looking back and learning from the mistakes of our forefathers. 50 million people died from the 1918 pandemic, and we should be trying our absolute hardest to overcome this sickness. So please take the 1918 Spanish Flu into consideration while living your daily life. Go the extra mile, take the precautions, social distance, wear a mask, and help us bring this pandemic to an end.

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