You’ve heard it said on television news or on one of the online news feeds, the “new normal.” What is meant by new normal is that because of the COVID19 pandemic, the way life is now is the way it will be in the future and there is no going back to the way things were. What’s wrong with that thinking? A lot. For one, no one but God knows the future. We don’t know if this is the new normal. We can speculate but we just don’t know and it’s premature and irresponsible to broadcast such prognostication. So, we need to admit we don’t know the future but we do know the past. We can learn valuable lessons if we will study the past.
Studying the past led me to research the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918. This horrific virus infected over 500 million people around the world (about 1/3 of the world’s population at that time) and caused between 15-50 million deaths worldwide including 675,000 in the United States. This pandemic killed more people than World Wars I and II combined.1
The Spanish Flu ironically did not originate in Spain. Research indicates that it was brought to Spain by soldiers after World War I. The best guess is that it originated in the United States as a strain of H1N1 influenza A virus. The first documented case of the Spanish Flu was in Fort Riley, Kansas. Without the resources to combat it, the virus spread quickly and came in several waves. The first wave hit in the spring on 1918 with 75,000 dying in the United States. The second wave was the deadliest. It hit in the fall of 1918 and attacked men and women in the prime of their lives (20-40 years). The final wave hit in January 1919 and lingered until June 1919.2
In the United States, citizens were ordered to wear face masks, schools, businesses, theaters, and all entertainment venues were shuttered. Bodies of the dead piled up in makeshift morgues and because mortuaries were overwhelmed, families were often left to dig and bury their own dead. The aftermath of the virus was that the average life expectancy in the United States dropped from 51 years pre-virus to 39 years post-virus.3
Nice history lesson, Irv, but so what. How does that apply to the “new normal?” If the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 taught us anything it’s that flu viruses run their course over a period of months. When they are done ravaging the population, life returns to normal. Baseball stadiums were once again filled in 1919 and there were no more masks, quarantines, or social distancing. Businesses, restaurants, and theaters reopened as before and Christians sat next to one another in church in pews. As a friend recently expressed, it is not a “new” normal that we’re experiencing but a “temporary” normal that won’t last.