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A Baylor History scholar discusses trends between historical pandemics

Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 19:00:26-04

WACO, TX — Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 1918 influenza came in quick and changed the course of many lives.

Baylor University's Distinguished Professor of History, Philip Jenkins, Ph.D. explains pandemics are nothing new to human history, especially American History.

“The kind of situation we’re dealing with now is very very common in human history, it’s very common specifically in American History, and with globalization we’re going to have to get used to situations like this, this will absolutely not be the last," Jenkins told 25 News.

He explained that the pace at which our world currently operates may be the odds against us.

“Speed of globalization is a key factor That’s what makes us so much more vulnerable,“ said Jenkins.

Comparing the 1918 influenza pandemic to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenkins explains there are many similarities, especially in the way the public has reacted. The one distinct difference is the intervention of governments.

“The main difference today of course is that governments are intervening with these lock-downs and social distancing,“ said Jenkins.

He explained because the 1918 influenza began during a time of war, economies and governments stayed very secretive about their ill and took very little measure to lock-down.

Jenkins explained the 1918 pandemic came in phases:

"It went through two phases, the first one hit in March 1918, and it mainly hit older and weaker people, who are the ones who died, but then there was a second wave in August, and that was the one that killed all young adults, and that was the really devastating one," he said.

He details that disease doesn't just vanish, noting it took years for the 1918 pandemic to settle. He said it was well into 1920 before numbers dropped.

Even at present time, the number of those who died due to the 1918 pandemic is still up for debate.

“The 1918 affair had an enormous impact - I generally don’t know how many people it didn’t kill. Our best bet is about 650,000 in the U.S. and maybe 50 million worldwide, and some people say 100 million,“ Jenkins said.

Jenkins reiterated throughout the interview that his knowledge comes from a historical standpoint, not medical.

He concluded with "maybe the most important lesson is one for governments and authorities, which is that transparency pays. Letting people have the maximum amount of information in the most honest possible way is crucial because if people are not told this they will do really stupid things, they will blame particular ethnic groups, racial groups, they will develop conspiracy theories, and the way to deal with this is to provide information and transparency and agencies and countries that don’t do this need to be blamed and exposed."