Scenario: State and local officials simultaneously closed schools, churches and theaters, and banned public gatherings, adding mask mandates and social distancing in order to deal with a deadly pandemic.

The public responds with widespread compliance but there was also pushback and even defiance. And as time went on, it was harder and harder to comply.

Sound familiar? No, it is not a description of 2021 during the pandemic but these are real descriptions of the United States during the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic. Just as today, people insisted on returning to their normal lives; businesses pressed officials to be allowed to reopen. People went back to their normal pre-pandemic routines.

But in the fall of 1918, a second variant wave caused 90% of the deaths that occurred during the pandemic; then a third and fourth wave hit.

If we have anything to learn from the history of the 1918 influenza pandemic, it is that a premature return to pre-pandemic life risks more cases and more deaths. The second and third waves showed what can happen when people prematurely relax their guard.

The lesson: continue social distancing, wearing masks, no public gatherings (including airplane meals!) and continue this even if vaccinated (there was no vaccine for the 1918 pandemic) until there is herd immunity.

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