Updated: Apr 2, 2020
As the number of coronavirus cases keeps rising around the world, state governors take drastic action once used during the Spanish flu pandemic.
By Gabriel Arizon, Editor-in-Chief
Coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States as state governors implement a tried and tested method to tackle the mounting problem — closing non-essential businesses and telling residents to stay home.
Six states — California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Louisiana — have been placed under “stay home” orders by their governors, according to the Guardian and NBC News. Those states hold about 89 million citizens, more than a quarter of all Americans. The orders are an attempt to flatten the bell curve of infections throughout the nation.
“When I talk about the most drastic action we can take, this is the most drastic action we can take,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference. “This is not life as usual. Accept it. Realize it and deal with it.”
This is not the first time similar measures were implemented in the states. When the Spanish flu made its way to the U.S. in 1918, states across the country had to take serious action to mitigate the spread. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), schools, theaters, churches and dance halls were closed nationwide. New York mandated staggered shifts — shifts that reduce the number of employees entering and leaving the worksite at a given time — to reduce rush hour traffic. Weddings and funerals were banned in Kansas City if more than 20 people were attending.
The NIH also found that cities which responded to the flu quickly, drastically flattened the bell curve of infection — St. Louis being a prime example. The city’s mortality rate was the lowest among the major U.S. cities, totaling 1,703 deaths, according to the Daily World. Cities like Philadelphia, which responded too slowly, suffered the highest number of casualties. The city ignored warnings of the flu and held a parade during WWI to support the war effort that drew in over 200,000 people, according to Quartz. By the end of the week, all of Philadelphia's 31 hospitals were full and over 4,500 people were dead.
The Spanish flu and coronavirus are similar in terms of their rate of infection, as the former affected a third of the world’s population while the latter is found on every continent except Antarctica, according to MedicineNet.
According to Worldometer, the U.S. has over 34,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of March 22, ranking third behind China and Italy. The U.S. is experiencing large spikes in infections, recording over 8,000 new cases since yesterday, the single largest increase the country has seen so far. New York has the most infected with about 16,900 cases, while six states all have over 1,000.
“The lack of previous experience with this virus is part of the reason public health officials are working so hard to contain the spread of this particular coronavirus,” wrote Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine. “When viruses are both new (which means the population is highly susceptible) and can easily pass from person to person (a high transmission rate), they can be very dangerous.”
Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most at-risk group are older adults and those with serious underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. Social distancing is the best method to prevent exposure, according to experts.
"[T]he things that we're seeing in this country, this physical separation at the same time as we're preventing an influx of cases coming in,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the NIH, “I think that's going to go a long way to preventing us from becoming an Italy.”