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Striking similarities between life during the 1918 Spanish flu and now

Face masks, closed schools, no large public gatherings back then and now.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — You’ve heard people say this pandemic is unprecedented.

"I think a lot of people are stunned how we’re doing the same thing 100 years later," Historian Susan Parker said regarding the 1918 Spanish flu and the current coronavirus pandemic. 

The similarities are striking between what happened in 1918 when the Spanish flu spread throughout the world, the U.S. and here at home. 

In St. Johns County, "They closed schools. They canceled church services. Movie theaters and soda fountains were closed," Parker said. 

The goal was to keep the flu from spreading. Sound familiar? In 1918, the Spanish flu reportedly killed half a million people in the United States, when the nation's population was much smaller than what it is now. 

Back then, St. Johns County authorities "said people were not to leave the house if there was anyone in their home who had the flu," Parker said.

Some cities in the U.S. mandated people wear face masks. The staff at the telephone and telegraph company in Jacksonville wore masks, after losing many employees.

Regarding the name “Spanish flu," Spain didn’t like that name.  

"In Spain they called the Spanish flu the French flu,"  Parker said. "And the French called it the Spanish flu!"

Businesses and cities eventually reopened, such as the Jefferson Theater on Cathedral Street in St. Augustine.

Parker read from a newspaper at that time, "They advertised they had 'thoroughly aired and fumigated.'"

And just as there’s talk today of a possible second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, guess what happened back then.

"They had two waves in 1918," Parker explained. "One in the spring and one in the fall, and the fall one was much worse than the one in the spring."

There was no vaccine for the Spanish flu. And there currently is no vaccine for the coronavirus.

"We’re using pretty much the same tactics for prevention that they did in 1918," Parker noted. 

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