When Will We Ever Learn? Denver reopens for business too soon during the Flu Pandemic

The Results of Reopening too Early: The repetition of history. . . .

Politicians were feeling pressure during the pandemic. Businesses were agitating to reopen and deaths were going down, especially far away from the coastal cities that it had hit worst, first. It seemed time to declare “mission accomplished” and get the economy humming again — especially with an election looming.

“Flu” cases at the barracks hospital in Ft. Collins, 1918. National Archives at College Park Photographer: O.J. Watrous

“. . . .folks were bristling at being asked to stay indoors in the picturesque autumn and businesses — especially movie theaters — were irritated at losing so much money because of what seemed like a relatively isolated pandemic. They argued it was better to simply quarantine those who showed symptoms and let everyone else go about their business.”

It was 1918 and Denver Mayor William Fitz Randolph Mills bowed to business leaders and decided to back off social distancing. Armistice Day seemed like a perfect day to do it. The city had been all but locked down for five weeks and now there was something worth celebrating — the end of the First World War. Grateful citizens streamed into the streets of the city on November 11, 1918, soon after Denver’s Manager of Health William H. Sharpley declared the “plague under control!”

While some experts tried to calm fears by saying the Spanish influenza epidemic was “ordinary influenza by another name,” according to John Barry, the author of the book “The Great Influenza,” by the end of the pandemic, an estimated 675,000 Americans died, primarily in the fall of 1918, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Instead of being at the end of the influenza’s toll on Denver, the city was only halfway through its ordeal. By backing off social distancing too early, they utterly failed to flatten the curve, and suffered a second bump, as this graph of cities by National Geographic shows.By November 22, deaths were spiking and Denver officials scrambled to reinstate bans on public and private gatherings and requiring masks for all commerce.

But the damage had been done. Five days later, Denver Post headlines blared the bad news: “All Flu Records Smashed in Denver in Last 24 Hours,” claiming that more Denver residents had died of influenza than Coloradans killed in the First World War.

Check out John Avion’s entire Editorial at CNN