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How similar were COVID-19 and Spanish Influenza?

Posted at 6:44 PM, May 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 19:20:33-04

CLEVELAND — A local historian said social distancing and closing down businesses is how the world survived Spanish Influenza last century.

"It’s called the Spanish Influenza but no one is really sure of the origins,” said John Grabowski, professor of applied history at Case Western Reserve University.

The Spanish Flu, as many know it, infected and killed people all over the world in from 1918-1919.

"I’m not an epidemiologist, but it really struck people in the prime of their lives, people with the strongest immune systems were the ones taken out,” said Grabowski.

That’s much different from what we’re seeing with COVID-19. Coronavirus is killing the elderly and those with weaker immune systems more, but that’s where lots of the differences end.

"What they do is exactly what we’re doing now, they enforce what we would call social distancing, they wore face masks, they began closing down things,” said Grabowski.

He says although this pandemic touched so many people, it wasn’t even the biggest headline of the time.

"We’re in a war and this is toward the end of WWI and it is a time period where American troops are really beginning to be majorly engaged in the war, so a lot of the focus is on what’s happening there,” he said.

While many places closed down to keep people safe, much of downtown Cleveland couldn’t.

"The thing for Cleveland is we are an industrial city and Cleveland’s industries are critical for war production and so they are not shutting down industries,” said the historian.

The CDC estimates 500 million people, or one-third of the population at the time was infected with the virus. Fifty million of them died, 675,000 of the victims were Americans and an estimated 4,040 of the deceased were Clevelanders.

Grabowski says its important we learn from the past as we think about ways to shape our future.

"History is important,” he said. "Patterns in history do repeat themselves, things never repeat exactly.”

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