What Happened to U.S. Cities That Practiced–and Didn’t Practice–Social Distancing During 1918’s “Spanish Flu”

Americans have long been accused of growing socially distant, bowling alone, as Robert Putnam wrote in 2000, or worse becoming radicalized as "lone wolves" and isolated trolls. But we are seeing how much we depend on each other as social distancing becomes the painful normal. Not quite quarantine, social distancing involves a semi-voluntary restriction of our movements. For many people, this is, as they say, a big ask. But no matter what certain world leaders tell us, if at all possible, we should stay home, and stay a safe distance away from people who don’t live with us.

People in the U.S. have done this before, of course, just a little over a hundred years ago during the influenza epidemic called the “Spanish Flu,” though the buzzy term "social distancing" wasn’t used then. As the short VOA News video above explains, during the spread of the disease, city officials in St. Louis did what cities all over the country are doing now: shut down schools, playgrounds, libraries, churches, public offices, and parks and banned gatherings of over 20 people. Philadelphia, on the other hand, refused to do the same. The city “allowed a major World War I support parade to take place that attracted 20,000 people.”




The refusal to shut down large gatherings cost thousands of lives. “Three days later, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled with sick and dying Spanish flu patients.” COVID-19 may be a far milder illness in children and most healthy people, but this is exactly what makes it so insidious. One person can infect dozens before showing any symptoms, if ever. During the “Spanish” flu pandemic, “the best approaches were layered,” writes German Lopez at Vox. “It wasn’t enough to just tell people to stay home, because they might feel the need to go to school or work, or they could just ignore guidance and go to events, bars, church or other big gatherings anyway.”

The comparison between St. Louis and Philadelphia stresses the need for city officials to intervene in order for social distancing strategies to work. However we might feel in ordinary circumstances about governments banning public gatherings, the global spread of a deadly virus seems to warrant a coordinated public response that best contains the spread. “In practical terms,” Lopez points out, “this meant advising against or prohibiting just about every aspect of public life, from schools to restaurants to entertainment venues (with some exceptions for grocery stores and drugstores).”

Lopez cites several academic studies of the 1918 influenza outbreak as evidence of the effectiveness of social distancing. For even more data on our current pandemic, see Tomas Pueyo’s extensive Medium essay compiling data and statistics on COVID-19’s spread and prevention. And if you’re still having a little trouble figuring out what exactly “social distancing” involves, see this excellent guide from Asaf Bitton, physician, public health researcher, and director of the Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

As Bitton tells Isaac Chotiner in a recent New Yorker interview, “social distancing isn’t some external concept that applies only to work and school. Social distancing is really extreme. It is a concept that disconnects us physically from each other. It profoundly reorients our daily life habits. And it is very hard.” No matter how polarized we become, or how glued to our various screens, we are “social creatures” who need connection and community. When we make the transition out of life at a distance, maybe the memory of that need will help us overcome some of our pre-virus social alienation.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch “Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need to Know,” and the 24-Lecture Course “An Introduction to Infectious Diseases,” Both Free from The Great Courses

COVID-19 is a serious, highly communicable disease. It is not a hoax, and it will continue to spread until it is contained with widespread testing and a vaccine. At present, scientists seem to know little about all the forms of transmission or the possibility of reinfection. Older people and the immunocompromised are certainly more at risk than others, but the virus can kill the healthy and the sick. It doesn’t care where it starts or ends. It doesn’t care if someone is a U.S. Senator or someone a senator deems disposable. These plain facts should put us all on notice, but the response has not only been slow but nearly nonexistent in countries where leaders are daily making the situation worse.

In the U.S., hospitals and city and state governments cannot expect the kind of response from the federal government needed to meet the threat. We must all educate ourselves and do our part, both for ourselves and our neighbors—which seems, after all, to amount to the same thing.




To that end, we can thank The Great Courses company for offering their entire online lecture series, An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, for free, as well as the short video at the top from Dr. Roy Benaroch, who debunks rumors and explains the history and inevitability of COVID-19. “It’s no longer a question of if this virus is going to strike your community, but when.”

While most cases are mild, this should not lure us into a false sense of security. Infected people who appear healthy and present no symptoms are responsible for the spread of the disease, and if they continue to move around and infect others, the chances of it striking us or those we love increase exponentially. This is why social distancing is so important. “We’re past the time when containment can separate us from them, the contagious people from the rest of us.” Every time we go out, we risk exposing others or ourselves.

“Of course, you should seek medical attention if you experience shortness of breath or more severe symptoms,” but people with milder symptoms should stay away from doctors and hospitals. Dr. Benaroch gives us several other preventative measures we can employ to slow the spread and “flatten the curve.” COVID-19 is a viral infection, and as such, it makes sense for us to brush up on our virology via the third lecture in the Infectious Diseases course, above, “Viruses: Hijackers of Your Body’s Cells.” Catch the full 24-video course from Dr. Barry Fox here, and watch lecture six, “Six Decades of Infectious Disease Challenges,” below. Great Courses promises more “relevant content to help inform, enlighten, and understand the world around us and to counter mistruths and rumors.” We'll keep you posted.

Stay home, share the video at the top with your skeptical friends and family, and urge them to stay home too.

“An Introduction to Infectious Diseases” will be added to our list, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Note: You can sign up for a free trial of Great Courses Plus and watch lectures for countless courses over the next 30 days.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks: The 2020 Edition

Back in 2014, this image won a contest on a subreddit devoted to Blender, "the amazing open-source software program for 3D modeling, animation, rendering and more." (You can download the free software here.) The image riffs, of course, on Edward Hopper's classic 1942 painting, "Nighthawks," taking its theme of loneliness to new extremes--extremes that we're just starting to get accustomed to now.

Find lots of background information on the original "Nighthawks" painting in the Relateds below.

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“I Will Survive,” the Coronavirus Version for Teachers Going Online

If you're an academic sprinting to put your course online, this video will make you feel better for a solid two minutes and 44 seconds.

Above we present, "I Will Survive," the Coronavirus version for teachers going online, with lyrics adapted by Michael Bruening, historian at Missouri State.

At first I was afraid, I was petrified

Kept thinking I could never teach through Canvas all the time

But then I spent so many nights reading the help docs for so long

And I grew strong

And I learned how to get along

And so I’m back

Students are gone

As all my colleagues try to figure out how they’re gonna get along

I should have kept up with the tech, not skipped that class on course design

If I’d known for just one second I’d be teaching all-online

Go on now, go, leave me alone

I’ve got to figure out

Just how to lecture using Panopto

You gave me two days to adjust, to move everything online

Did you think I'd crumble

Did you think I'd lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to Zoom, I know I'll be alive

Oh, my students still will learn

And my paychecks I will earn, and I'll survive

I will survive, hey, hey

It took all the strength I had not to lay down and die

Kept trying hard to mend the pieces of my syllabi

And I spent oh so many nights just feeling sorry for myself

I used to cry

But now I hold my head up high and you’ll see me

Teaching on zoom

But just don’t cough into the mic or every eye will be on you

I can’t hear you, you’re on mute, your camera’s black, are you still there?

We’ve got some glitches to work out, but I know my grading scheme is fair

Oh now, go, walk out the door

Trying to get this lecture done

And I’m already on take four

Now the network has gone down, and I’m all out of wine

Do you think I’ll crumble

Do you think I’ll lay down and die?

Oh no, not I, I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to zoom, I know I’ll be alive

My students still will learn

And my paychecks I will earn and I’ll survive

I will survive

Hey hey

Why Fighting the Coronavirus Depends on You

A public service announcement from Vox.

It's worth coupling this with our previous post: Quarantined Italians Send a Message to Themselves 10 Days Ago: What They Wish They Knew Then.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Quarantined Italians Send a Message to Themselves 10 Days Ago: What They Wish They Knew Then

Countries like the US, England, France, Spain and Germany are about 9-10 days behind in the COVID-19 progression. For our benefit, the video channel called "A THING BY" asked Italians to record a message they wish had heard 10 days prior. Let's take careful note of what they have to say.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Zoom Providing K-12 Schools Free Access to Videoconferencing Tools During COVID-19 Crisis: They’ll Power Your Online Courses

FYI: Zoom provides a turnkey video conferencing solution that's high quality and easy to use. And now universities across the country use Zoom to power their online courses. Today, Zoom announced that K-12 schools can gain free access to Zoom during the COVID-19 crisis. Students or teachers can sign up here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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via Forbes.

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