Los Angeles Collegian Online

Two Pandemics is Not One: Looking at Numbers


Reopening Schools may do more Harm than Good


(Los Angeles, Calif./April, 25, 2021) — Parents, students and educational institutions continue to grapple with the repercussions of a year of remote learning, but we should also look back.After all, the world has been through a global pandemic before. Just over 100 years ago, what did the sensible humans of 1918-1919 do during the so-called Spanish Influenza?

We are lucky to have historical knowledge from which to draw. Data from the era is abundant because of meticulous military accounting during WWI. Turns out, there was a wide range of reactions to the 1918 influenza pandemic on a city-to-city level.

Flu-related direct advisories from local and federal government varied and sent messages to constituents. But, the U.S. press downplayed the severity of the flu because federal limitations muffled media to stifle anti-war sentiment.

With clear messaging from the press or federal government, cities and states were left to fend for them- selves and people lived; they listened to their mayor, president and the newspaper affected how seriously they took their extra-deadly flu.

In Oregon, the city of Portland paid teachers to make home visits and focus their lessons on “useful” subjects like home economics. Many schools across the U.S., including some universities, taught classes outdoors based on the assertion by medical experts the virus spreads less frequent outdoors.

Most cities in the United States (and globally) shut down schools at least temporarily, but just like today, there was public pressure to reopen. The data suggests that, just like today, the cities that shutdown the earliest and most strictly faired the best.

Denver, CO, for instance, reopened schools and businesses early and saw a deadly second-wave of flu-related deaths in 1919. Overall, cities that reopened early endured spikes in cases that were more devastating than cities that waited longer to reopen. Inversely, scientists and historians say that school closure was one of the most effective tactics cities utilized to curb the flu virus.

Data repeats itself, and the takeaway is clear—human life is always at risk, when we jump the gun and the numbers still tell us, that numbers are too high.

Whitney Gibson

We must use common sense when we consider the lives of the millions of students who study in the U.S. Until then, students should continue remote learning until fall, when more people have been vaccinated and schools can function more effectively, with less risk.

A somber final note—the flu of 1918 is the deadliest pandemic on record, often called The Great Flu. It is estimated that 675,000 Ameri- cans died. As of today, about 548,000 Americans have died of Covid-19.

We must prioritize the lives of students, parents, educators and all those who they come into contact with as we negotiate school openings.

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