Governments Around the World—Including the Donald Trump Administration—Are Making the Same Mistakes that Led to the Deaths of Millions of People in the 1918/1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic

True confession time: I no longer watch any broadcast television newscasts because every time I see Donald Trump on my TV screen, my blood pressure goes up and I have to physically restrain myself from throwing a slipper (or something heavier) at my TV set.

In my opinion, he is most definitely not the kind of President that Americans need in a time of crisis. All of his tactics for dealing with bad news/”fake news” definitely won’t help him in a potential SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Today, the Washington Post newspaper (original version, archived copy) published an interview with John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, which is a history of the 1918/1919 Spanish flu pandemic I have read and can recommend highly:

Now, as fears about the coronavirus spread, at least one historian is worried the Trump administration is failing to heed the lesson of one of the world’s worst pandemics: Don’t hide the truth.

“They [the Trump administration] are clearly trying to put the best possible gloss on things, and are trying to control information,” said John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History,” in a phone interview with The Washington Post.

When the second wave of Spanish flu hit globally, “there was outright censorship” in Europe, Barry said. “In the United States, they didn’t quite do that, but there was intense pressure not to say anything negative.”

For the most part, the media followed the government’s lead and self-censored dire news. That made everything worse, Barry said.For example, in Philadelphia, local officials were planning the largest parade in the city’s history. Just before the scheduled event, about 300 returning soldiers started spreading the virus in the city.

“And basically every doctor, they were telling reporters the parade shouldn’t happen. The reporters were writing the stories; editors were killing them,” he said. “The Philadelphia papers wouldn’t print anything about it.

”The parade was held and, 48 hours later, Spanish flu slammed the city. Even once schools were closed and public gatherings were banned, city officials claimed it wasn’t a public health measure and there was no cause for alarm, Barry said.

Philadelphia became one of the hardest hit areas of the country. The dead lay in their beds and on the streets for days; eventually, they were buried in mass graves. More than 12,500 residents died, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now, it is not just the Donald Trump administration in the U.S. who is muzzling public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been forbidden to speak freely to the public since Wednesday’s press conference. For example, there have been numerous news media reports that the Iranian authorities have also clamped down on any news of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak that would make their government look bad. Some news reports have criticized China for the same reason.

Right now, people around the globe are relying on their governments and their news media to inform and guide them during a potential pandemic. It’s essential to be clear, honest, and up-front about risk communication to the general public. If governments are less than honest with the truth, history shows us that it will likely backfire, and lead to less prepared citizens, who may make ultimately fatal decisions for themselves and their families.

A virus doesn’t pay attention to a President’s tweets and speeches.


Good Sources of Information on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

Here is my newly-updated list of good, credible, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (formerly called 2019-nCoV and now officially called SARS-CoV-2; the disease the virus causes is now called COVID-19):

If you need lists of how to prepare and what to buy in order to get your household ready for a potential pandemic, here are five suggestions:

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are three good places to check:

Stay informed, get prepared, and stay healthy!

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UPDATED! Coronavirus Versus Influenza: Why SARS-CoV-2 is Not Just “the Flu” (With Sources)

Many people are saying that we should be paying attention to the regular seasonal influenza, which kills so many more people than the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has. U.S. Presdient Donald Trump, in his most recent news conference, kept saying “It’s the flu”.

However, as this poster from the Coronavirus subReddit explains in detail (complete with sources), SARS-CoV-2 is not just “the flu”:


  1. The virulence (R0) of SARS-CoV-2 is estimated between 1.4-6.49, with a mean estimate of 3.28 (source) . This mean estimate is much higher than the seasonal flu, which has an R0 of 1.3 (source) . What this means is that SARS-CoV-2 spreads significantly faster than the seasonal flu.
  2. The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of SARS-CoV-2 is at least 2-3% (source) . This is 20-30 times higher than the CFR of the season flu, which is around .1% (source).
  3. SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted without the infected showing any symptoms (source) . This makes it much more difficult to control.
  4. Roughly 20% of SARS-CoV-2 infections result in serious symptoms that require medical intervention (source) . This is more than 10 times the hospitalization rate of the seasonal flu (source).
  5. Symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 can persist over a month (source) compared to the seasonal flu where symptoms typically tend to clear after five days (source) .
  6. There is no vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 (source), whereas people regularly get annual flu shots.
  7. There is no herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2 which means that it can theoretically infect the entire population. See, for example, a Korean psychiatric department where the virus infected 99/102 people.

Now, consider the multiplicative effect that all of these attributes have for the virus. Compared to the seasonal flu, SARS-CoV-2 (1) spreads faster; (2) kills far more; (3) is harder to control; (4) requires use of far more medical resources; (5) for far longer a period of time; (6) has no effective treatment; and (7) can infect entire populations at the same time.

These factors mean that SARS-CoV-2, if left unchecked, is far more likely to overwhelm a country’s medical infrastructure. Additionally, when medical infrastructure is overwhelmed, the CFR will skyrocket because we know that 20% of cases require medical intervention.

To summarize, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is potentially devastating if containment measures fail. This is far worse than the seasonal flu. This is why governments around the world are pulling out all the stops in order to try and contain outbreaks of COVID-19 disease caused by this coronavirus.

So the next time somebody who is ill-informed tries to argue with you that this is “just the flu”, please share this information with them.

Thank you to the person who originally compiled this information, u/Hafomeng, and posted it to the r/Coronavirus community on Reddit!

Coronavirus Versus Influenza (infographic from the Boston Herald)

UPDATE 2:25 p.m.: The Guardian newspaper reports today:

Many individuals who get coronavirus will experience nothing worse than seasonal flu symptoms, but the overall profile of the disease, including its mortality rate, looks more serious. At the start of an outbreak the apparent mortality rate can be an overestimate if a lot of mild cases are being missed. But this week, a WHO expert suggested that this has not been the case with COVID-19. Bruce Aylward, who led an international mission to China to learn about the virus and the country’s response, said the evidence did not suggest that we were only seeing the tip of the iceberg. If borne out by further testing, this could mean that current estimates of a roughly 1% fatality rate are accurate. This would make COVID-19 about 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, which is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year globally.

UPDATE 4:16 p.m.: The credible, authoritative Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has just published an up-to-date summary of everything we know so far about SARS-CoV-2: COVID-19—New Insights on a Rapidly Changing Epidemic.