1918 flu pandemic surged after Thanksgiving

Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 4:53 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - As national and local leaders ask people to curtail the Thanksgiving Day celebration, many are looking to history to compare how the influenza pandemic played out during the holidays, some 102 years ago.

A look back at Toledo Blade articles that are stored at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library shows that there are many parallels.

Both pandemics started to hit in March and April of 1918 with cases ramping up in the Fall of that year. The start of the holiday season at Thanksgiving of 1918 saw the country relaxing public health measures as the country gathered together to celebrate the end of WWI and Armistice Day on November 11th. Within two weeks there was a surge of influenza cases as families gathered together for Thanksgiving.

According to Dr. Paul Rega, MD who teaches pandemic history at UTMC and is also an emergency room physician, all of these events led to three deadly waves of the virus. “During 1918 we had about 675-thousand people die in the United States because of the flu. Which would correlate to about 2-million people in this country now.”

Toledo Public Library Historian Jill Clever says another stark similarity was the opposition to a public mask mandate. One notable protest happened in Lima, “Basically said we’re not wearing masks. And it was a large group. And they were arrested.”

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