COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 flu pandemic did — approximately 675,000.
The U.S. population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a bigger, more lethal swath through the country. But the COVID-19 crisis is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines available this time.
“Big pockets of American society — and, worse, their leaders — have thrown this away,” said medical historian Dr. Howard Markel, of the University of Michigan, of the opportunity to vaccinate everyone eligible by now.
Like the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, the coronavirus may never entirely disappear from our midst. Instead, scientists hope it becomes a mild seasonal bug as human immunity strengthens through vaccination and repeated infection. That could take time.
“We hope it will be like getting a cold, but there’s no guarantee,” said Emory University biologist Rustom Antia, who suggests an optimistic scenario in which this could happen over a few years.
For now, the pandemic still has the United States and other parts of the world firmly in its jaws.
While a delta-fuelled surge in new infections may have peaked, U.S. deaths still are running at more than 1,900 a day on average, the highest level since early March, and the country’s overall death toll stood at just over 674,000 as of midday Monday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, though the real number is believed to be higher.
Winter may bring a new surge, with the University of Washington’s influential model projecting an additional 100,000 or so Americans will die of COVID-19 by Jan. 1, which would bring the overall U.S. toll to 776,000.
The 1918-19 influenza pandemic killed 50 million victims globally at a time when the world had one-quarter the population it does now. Global deaths from COVID-19 now stand at more than 4.6 million.
The 1918-19 flu’s death toll in the U.S. is a rough guess, given the incomplete records of the era and the poor scientific understanding of what caused the illness. The 675,000 figure comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Before COVID-19, the 1918-19 flu was universally considered the worst pandemic disease in human history. It’s unclear if the current scourge ultimately will prove to be more deadly.
In many ways, the 1918-19 flu — which was wrongly named Spanish flu because it first received widespread news coverage in Spain — was worse.
Spread by the mobility of the First World War, it killed young, healthy adults in vast numbers. No vaccine existed to slow it, and there were no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. And, of course, the world was much smaller.
Just under 64 per cent of the U.S. population has received as least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with state rates ranging from a high of approximately 77 per cent in Vermont and Massachusetts to lows around 46 to 49 per cent in Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia and Mississippi.
Globally, about 43 per cent of the population has received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data, with some African countries just beginning to administer first shots.
What’s happening across Canada
- Masks mandatory in indoor N.B. public spaces as province sees record new cases.
- Nova Scotia registers 55 new cases over Friday and the weekend.
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday, more than 228.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at well over 4.6 million.
In Europe, Greece’s COVID-19 health advisory body has recommended expanding the country’s booster shot program to people aged 60 and older, care-home residents and health-care workers.
In Africa, authorities in Burundi have decided to suspend all social events except on Saturdays and Sundays as concerns grow about a rising number of COVID-19 infections.
In Asia-Pacific, New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, will remain in lockdown for at least two more weeks, although some restrictions will be eased from Tuesday.
In the Americas, the president of Costa Rica has warned that developing countries are at risk of sliding into instability without more pandemic aid from richer nations and the International Monetary Fund.