Lessons from the past

Last week, a Crosscut article took a look into Seattle’s past and painted a familiar picture for us. It’s October 1918, and Seattle is battling pandemic flu. People are wearing face masks and staying far apart from their loved ones. Businesses are closed.

Sound familiar?

Volunteer caregivers from The American Red Cross during the 1918 flu epidemic. Image courtesy of the Oakland Public Library.

And just like we flattened the curve in April 2020, these precautions worked to control the flu in 1918. In fact, they worked so well that it looked like the epidemic was over, and the city ended the restrictions after five weeks.

So people celebrated Thanksgiving 1918 together, in person, with their loved ones. And then they celebrated their winter holidays in person too.

And the flu came back.

Of all the people who died of the 1918–1919 flu in Seattle, more than half died after the holiday season after the restrictions were lifted, and after the epidemic had been declared over.

Fortunately for us, we have some advantages our forebears didn’t have:

The lessons of history

We know that holiday gatherings during a pandemic can make many people sick and even die. We know not to gather indoors with people outside our household. We know to always wear a face-covering when we’re around people who don’t live with us.

Use video conferencing to connect

We are so impatient to see our loved ones in person, but at least we can see their faces and hear their voices virtually. The holidays are not the same when we cannot be together in person, but they can still be joyful. Talk to your family and friends about ways to make these days special and memorable without putting each other at risk. Check out the Department of Health’s ideas for virtual celebrations for some inspiration!

Hope: an end in sight

We are hearing great news about developments towards a COVID-19 vaccine. There are potentially two very effective vaccines close to being ready for approval. We are hopeful that there will be a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 available before the end of the year. Even then, it still may be many months before enough doses of vaccine are available for everyone who needs it. But, unlike in 1918, we can see an end in sight.

Practice compassion

Let your loved ones know you are thankful for them and want to keep them safe. There is a light at the end of this long tunnel.

More information

Stay tuned to their blog for more information on how you can help stop the spread of COVID-19. Sign up to be notified whenever they post new articles.

Information in this blog changes rapidly. Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.

Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at their website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday — Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday — Sunday. Language assistance is available.

Please note that this call center cannot access COVID-19 testing results. For testing inquiries or results, please contact your health care provider.

[Originally published in Medium written by the Washington State Department of Health’s blog Public Health Connections]

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