Relax with caution

The history of the Spanish flu should give us pause to reflect on easing COVID-19 restrictions

In the past two weeks, the protests against COVID-19 restrictions we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing in the United States came to B.C.

People cannot really be blamed for getting a little antsy after nearly two months of physical distancing, self-isolation, lack of events and financial impacts.

And we’ve done pretty well in B.C. Our infections are comparatively low compared with many other jurisdictions and the death toll relatively minor. That is statistically speaking, of course. It is of no consolation to those people who are mourning the loss of loved ones.

Nevertheless, it appears we are on the other side of the curve we have heard so much about flattening. We peaked in March. Granted, the end of April saw a couple of new spikes, but these are due to localized outbreaks in two poultry plants and a federal prison.

Our health system was never overwhelmed and if the numbers continue to trend the way they are, it appears we are getting through this admirably.

Consequently, there has been lots of talk lately about easing up.

That is probably right and good, but we would be well-advised to do it cautiously.

In the spring of 1918, the Spanish Flu ripped through the world causing, literally, countless deaths. It appeared to have run its course by July, but that was just the first wave. A second, more deadly wave struck in August.

LAST WEEK: Mining for recovery

That light we are seeing at the end of the tunnel might just turn out to be a second even bigger train.

That is not to say we should not be planning to recover some semblance of normalcy, but we should be prepared to be right back where we started a couple of months ago.

On October 26, 1918, according to our own archives, “At South Hazelton [Spanish flu] broke out with great severity last week… At New Hazelton the disease appeared bright and early [Oct. 21], and now many are laid up.”

Fortunately, most of the cases in the Hazeltons ended up being quite mild.

And fortunately for Smithers, it had Dr. Horace Wrinch, who acted quickly to limit the damage.

MORE EDITORIAL: The other curve

“One of the first acts of Dr. Wrinch, as medical health officer, following his trip to town on Thursday (Oct. 24), was to close up everything presenting opportunity for an assembly,” The Interior News reported. “All dances are off, the public school closed Thursday noon, pool-rooms are closed, and there will be no services in the churches until the ban has been lifted.”

Sound familiar?

The school was converted to a temporary hospital, all the patients were gathered together there and the outbreak was contained. By Nov. 15, it was all over with no further spread of the disease. At the end of the day, 150 people in the Hazeltons were affected with five deaths. Smithers and area saw only 60 cases with one death.

That virus was not this virus, of course, but the lessons of history should remind us that while it may be tempting to relax a little bit, we should not become complacent.

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