Coronavirus: Lessons from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

If you’re like me, you’re concerned about ongoing coronavirus pandemic. I stay hopeful by looking at history and how we’re all pulling together by not getting together. Thanks CoMo businesses for curbside pick up!

So what can we learn from the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed about 150 people in Columbia, which had a population of only 9,622, versus 108,500 today?

  • It will pass.
  • Quarantines and isolation works.
  • Be grateful. In 1918, regular broadcasts of radio were still in the future. The first coast-to-coast long-distance had only taken place in 1915, making telephone calls still a new thing. And working at home meant farming. So if you’re working at home, enjoying a Facetime chat with a friend or a meeting with friends via Zoom, remind yourself that this too shall pass and stay home.

Here’s a timeline to help you put all this in perspective. At the bottom are links to the sources and some tidbits for context.

What are you grateful for during this time of at-home isolation?

  • Sept. 25, 1918 – Columbia doctor states there is no cause for worry in Columbia. Also, passes would be stopped from being issued to the Student Army Training Corps to prevent them from catching it while out of town, per a March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article by Rudi Keller.
  • Also, suggests people avoid crowds and stated the illness was passed via coughing and sneezing.
  • Oct. 2, 191812 cases of the flu, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article
  • Oct. 7, 1918 – University of Missouri cancels classes until further notice. 70 cases among students, per March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune Rudi Keller article.

Note: The University of Missouri’s football season was cancelled. While the team continued to practice in hopes the quarantine would be lifted and it would be able to play, it never did, per the May 3, 2018 Columbia Missourian article.

  • Oct. 7, 1918 – Schools closed, public meetings forbidden, Stephens forbids students to receive callers to attend the shows, per Oct. 7, 1918 the Evening Missourian.
  • Oct. 9, 1918 – First death, “Joh Bennet, negro, who lived near Sugar Grove Church, five miles southeast of Columbia,” reported, per Oct. 9, 1918 Evening Missourian. 129 reported cases.
  • Oct. 9, 1918 – Schools, churches and theaters ordered to close, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • Oct. 11, 1918 – “Columbia Closes Up,” per the Oct. 11, 1918 Centralia Fireside Guard, Columbia’s business and places of amusement closed. 50 cases of flu.
  • Oct. 12, 1918 – Per a May 3, 2018 Evening Missourian article, the first influenza victim was reported. Poe Ewing was 17 or 18 years old, the May 3, 2018 article states and had served in the Student Army Training Corp. This article may reference Poe Ewing as the flu’s first victim because Joh Bennett was five miles from the city or because of the racism of the time since he was identified as a “negro,” in the report from the Evening Missourian of Oct. 9, 1918.
  • Oct. 18, 1918 – The University of Missouri closes, per the Evening Missourian.
  • Oct. 28, 1918 – Classes resume at MU, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • End of October – 43 deaths, “according to death certificates available online through the Missouri State Archives,” per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • Nov. 4, 1918 – Columbia Public Library reopens, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • Nov. 11, 1918 – Schools reopened, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • Nov. 11, 1918 – News of the armistice in France brings people out to celebrate. “The Student Army Training Corps was allowed to break its quarantine for the celebration, “ per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • Nov. 16, 1918 — Ban on public meetings lifted, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • Nov. 18, 1918 – One week after SATC allowed to break quarantine, 38 cases of the flu among high school students, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune Rudi Keller article
  • Nov. 27, 1918 – All previous restrictions re-imposed along with the closings of schools, churches, theaters and pool halls, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article. Day students at Stephens College and Christian College, now Columbia College were told to stay home, per May 3, 2018 Columbia Missourian article.
  • Dec. 6, 1918 – MU closes again, two weeks before the end of the session, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune Rudi Keller article.
  • Dec. 9, 1918 – Churches and theaters were allowed to reopen, with persons in every other seat, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.

As of the end of December, 42 deaths, adding to the 37 in November.

  • January 1919 – 17 dead due to influenza, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune article.
  • February 1919, four dead due to flu, per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily Tribune Rudi Keller.
  • By the end of the pandemic, in Boone County, a total of “143 people died of flu or pneumonia,” per the March 14, 2020 Columbia Daily article. A May 3, 2018 Columbia Missourian article by Jessi Dodge and Laura Miseriez reports about 150 people in Boone County died in the pandemic.

Context notes:

  • In 1915, the University of Missouri’s enrollment was roughly 4,349, versus 30,046 as of the fall of 2019.
  • In 1910, Columbia’s population was 9,662, versus about 108,500 in 2020.
  • In 1910, Boone County’s population in 30,533, versus 162,642

 

Sources:

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