Mortality Rates

This article on Covid 19 was written by Arthur Ahrens of Branchport and is published here with permission. Views expressed by contributors are their own.pundit


The 1918 flu epidemic, the so-called Spanish flu, killed 675,000 people in the US when the population of our country was 103,000,000. Hence, a mortality rate of 0.7%.

Woodrow Wilson was president then, and had no time for the virus. He was consumed with prosecuting the war in Europe. The 1918 Sedition Act made it a crime to say anything the government perceived as harming the country or the war effort. U.S. Newspapers downplayed the risk of the flu and the extent of its spread, resulting in superspreader events like the Liberty Loan March in Philadelphia in September, 1918.

The Army’s medical department recognized the threat the flu posed to the troops and urged officials to stop troop transports, halt the draft and quarantine soldiers; but they faced resistance from the line command, the War Department and President Woodrow Wilson.  By the end of the year, about 45,000 U.S. Army soldiers had died from the flu.

Wilson never acknowledged the flu, yet caught a debilitating case in April 1919. This so weakened the man that he was unsuccessful in controlling the European thirst for vengeance against Germany in the Paris Peace talks, resulting in the punitive and cruel Treaty of Versailles, which set the stage for the Second World War.

Wilson suffered a severe stroke shortly after in October 1919. Some authorities believe that this was a direct result of his severe case of the flu. The stroke resulted in his incapacitation. His wife, Edith, became gatekeeper to the president, assumed a large role in running the government after his stroke, influencing decisions affecting both domestic and foreign policy.

Key Takeaways:

  • There are eerie parallels between the 1918 and current viral pandemics.
  • Woodrow Wilson’s decision to pursue the war irrespective of the pandemic accelerated the disease spread and increased its massive death toll.
  • Pandemics occur in waves. The second wave in the 1918 pandemic was the most deadly. Other waves will likely occur during the current pandemic.
  • Innate optimism, strong libertarian instincts, native distrust of national government, diversity, sectarianism, and partisan division hinder American efforts to fight pandemics.
  • Exceptional times call for exceptional measures and exceptional leadership to unite against a common foe.

Covid-19 has a mortality rate of ~3%, as opposed to the H1N1 which had a mortality rate of 0.7%. Crunching the numbers results in a terrifying result.

I’m hoping that Trump’s affliction will change the course of our response to the novel coronavirus. The realist in me does not believe that for one moment.

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2 Responses to Mortality Rates

  1. William Hungerford says:

    Wilson faced dogged opposition to the Versailles Treaty from his Republican nemesis Henry Cabot Lodge. Republicans reportedly decided to oppose the treaty long before it was negotiated. They were miffed by Wilson’s decision as Head of State to conducted the negotiations himself.


  2. Arthur Ahrens says:

    It’s been pointed out to me (thanks William Hungerford) that I was comparing apples to oranges by basing the mortality rate for the 1918 flu pandemic on deaths per total US population and mortality rate for the coronavirus as deaths per known infections.

    To correct–It is estimated that ~ 1/3 of the US population was infected in 1918, approximately 31,000,000 people. 675,000 deaths gives a mortality rate of ~2.1 % in the US. This is consistent with the estimated case fatality rate of > 2.5 %. That does make the 1918 a more potent killer. But not as lethal as the novel coronavirus.

    A back of the envelope calculation indicates that IF the coronavirus kills at the rate of the Spanish Flu, we will lose over 2,000,000 American lives.

    And the novel coronavirus is proven to be deadlier than the 1918 flu.

    To quote Trump — This will not end well.


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