Historian: North Carolina Opened Too Soon in 1918

NC Flu

“Canteen workers, Charlotte, N.C. Taking food to the colored family all down with the ‘Flu.’ They found the mother had just died…” (Library of Congress)

Check out Ned Barnett’s Raleigh News Observer story on the 1918 pandemic in North Carolina based on his interview with Chapel Hill professor James Leloudis.

A taste:

The 1918 pandemic came through North Carolina in three waves: a small one in the summer of that year, a big one in the fall and winter and another smaller one in the winter of 1919.

“What gives me pause when I look back at 1918 is I think about the second wave,” Leloudis said. “People did social distancing and there was this sense of ‘that’s behind us and we can all move on’ and then the second wave hit and it was just devastating.”

By the end, 20 percent of the state – some 520,000 people – were infected and 13,644 died.

“One clear lesson of the 1918 pandemic is to be wary of that kind of thinking,” Leloudis said. “Letting down the guard in that case turned out to be disastrous. It’s the same situation we are in now.”

In North Carolina as of Friday, there were 10,923 confirmed cases of infection with the new coronavirus and 399 deaths. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, says the U.S. is almost certain to face a second surge this fall and winter.

Many say the COVID-19 crisis will change American society and politics, but Leloudis said that was not the case after the 1918 pandemic. Health care in North Carolina did not improve and the number of hospitals actually declined.

Leloudis said one troubling aspect of the COVID-19 crisis is that it also mirrors the racial inequities of a century ago.

Read the rest here.