No one knows with any degree of certainty when the COVID-19 pandemic will end.
What we do know is that a wide variety of actions have been taken by numerous federal and state agencies and officials to try and prevent the spread of the virus.
Much has been written and reported about this situation including how there are a number of similarities between this outbreak and what is known as the 1918 Flu Pandemic.
With that for today’s column, I’d like to briefly describe what happened here in Michigan in 1918 to stop that flu from spreading.
In 1918, the United States was engaged in World War I. During the war, a very virulent form of the flu emerged in Europe.
A widely held belief is that it came to the United States when infected service members returned home and then eventually it was spread all over the country and into Michigan.
Back then, Michigan’s governor was Albert E. Sleeper. He and other state and local officials closely followed our state’s infection and death rates and were very concerned because both were rising rapidly. It was clear something had to be done.
On Oct. 12, 1918, the governor requested that public gatherings of every description be discontinued. He also indicated that if his request wasn’t followed the Michigan Board of Health would order the closing of churches, theaters and prohibit all public gatherings.
Unfortunately, the rates continued to climb and on Oct. 18, an order was issued by the Board closing all places of public amusement and congregation except schools, leaving this decision to local authorities.
Soon thereafter officials in most districts ordered their schools closed.
Additional measures included Detroit barring soldiers from entering the city and quarantines of houses where people were infected, the use of face masks throughout the state, limited business hours for commercial establishments, and recommendations for frequent hand washing.
Eventually the pandemic subsided but not before over 25 million Americans had become infected and with over 500,000 deaths including 15,000 Michigan victims.
Obviously, there were many similarities to what’s happening now.
Studies have shown that both early intervention in a pandemic and the timing of the lifting of control measures to prevent reemergence are critical.
Hopefully, what worked in 1918 will work today.