Pandemic 1918

God is the time of sickness.

God is the doctor too.

In the time of the influenza,

He truly was a god to you.

Chorus:

Oh, he’s a God

God don’t never change,

Oh oh oh oh God

Always will be God.

Blind Willie Johnson, Texas rural blues gospel singer

When will this pandemic end?

The statistics are that in 1918-1920, the “Spanish” flu (actually the USA flu) killed 50 million worldwide, and 675,000 in the U.S. That’s a death rate of 2/3 of 1%. COVID’s death rate is currently 1/8th of that, but our plague has not ended. If COVID had the death rate of that influenza, we’d have more than 2.2 million dead when this is over.

Better health care capability 100 years later is one of the big differences. It’s truly been a god to us.

Both my parents lived through that earlier pandemic. No one in their families died. My parents were children at the time. They didn’t talk much about it. My grandparents died before I knew to ask them. I first learned about the Spanish flu from blues singers.

While at Starr King School for the Ministry, I found write-ups of seminarians killed by the flu. The founder and then-president of the School wrote a grief-stricken paragraph about the death of one of his most promising students who had been nursing victims at nearby UC Berkeley. Had she lived, she would have been the first female graduate of the seminary, and one of the first anywhere.

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