Lockdown Lifted Too Early In 1918 Spanish Flu & Infected Millions — Can This Happen With COVID-19?

Spanish Flu 1918 COVID-19Samantha Agate | Talent Recap

The COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for over 213,000 deaths worldwide. Some states are nearing the end of their lockdowns. But, according to history, this may not be such a good idea. After the Spanish Flu in 1918, lockdowns were lifted too early which resulted in a surge of thousands of deaths. Some people see this as a warning that current lockdowns should remain in place for a little while longer.

The 1918 Spanish Flu And Covid-19 Share Some Striking Similarities

In 1918, San Francisco was put on lockdown and wearing face masks was enforced as the flu swept the city. Social gatherings were banned for just four weeks. Sound familiar? People from many states have been urged to wear face masks. Even if they venture out to the grocery store or on social distancing walks during the COVID-19 pandemic they need to be wearing a mask. Public gatherings and events such as concerts, weddings and award shows have been canceled. This is to help prevent the spread of this virus. Now, states like Mississippi, Florida and Georgia are all looking towards lifting their lockdowns even though COVID-19 is still spreading across the country and the world.

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia reopened fitness centers, tattoo and massage parlors, bowling alleys, and hair salons last week. Restaurants and theaters are also expected to open back up again in the state as well. This comes after there being over 24,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 1,000 deaths because of it in the state of Georgia. It is easy to see how some people may think that lifting this lockdown can be a little bit premature. According to the Daily Beast, “under Kemp’s current plan to reopen, if approved businesses returned to just 50 percent of their pre-pandemic activity (or “contact”) levels, that range could reach 1,604 to 4,236 deaths. At 100 percent of pre-shutdown activity, the projected final body count could soar to a range between 4,279 and 9,748.”


Lifting Lockdowns Can Cause An Even Bigger Outbreak

Three weeks after the lockdown was lifted in San Francisco in 1918, there was a second surge of flu cases. This was because people flocked to public places when they thought the flu had stabilized, but boy were they wrong. There were nearly 600 cases of the flu confirmed per day in January 1919. People were then re-ordered to wear masks in mid-January. A lot of people refused to do so and received fines, much like the ones you can receive in many states now if you do not wear a face mask. People formed the ‘Anti-Mask League’ and held large public protests defying orders to stay inside and social-distance. This sounds a lot like the people who are currently protesting around the United States to end lockdowns and let people go back to work.

By the end of February of 1919, the death toll in San Francisco doubled to 3,213 flu-related deaths. In total, 45,000 San Franciscans had gotten the flu. This is an astronomical number that may have been prevented if the initial lockdown lasted for just a little bit longer.

The Mayor Of San Francisco Is Trying To Prevent History From Repeating Itself

London Breed, the mayor of San Francisco said that people are required to wear face masks during public outings and continue to practice social distancing. She also extended the city’s Stay Home order through May. She made it clear that just because people wear face masks does not give them an excuse to go out for non-necessary things or throw social gatherings. Large gatherings are what caused the Spanish Flu of 1918 to linger for so long.

The cities pandemic response is under a microscope considering what happened during the Spanish flu about 100 years earlier. Breed also said, “Just because San Francisco is being praised for flattening the curve, we’re not there yet.” She went on to say that “we cannot let up just because for some reason we believe that we’re in a better place.”

It’s good that Breed is looking at history and does not want to make the same mistakes that could cause even more deaths.


While San Francisco has made progress during the COVID-19 outbreak, many fear that other places in the United States could be headed for disaster after lifting lockdowns too early.


Samantha Agate
Samantha Agate

Samantha Agate is a contributor and host for Talent Recap on YouTube with a previous byline at The Blast. She graduated from Hunter College in 2019 with a degree in Media Studies and a Concentration in Journalism. When she isn't binge-watching reality television shows or binge-eating fried food, she loves hanging out with her friends and family and petting puppies.

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