Spanish Flu and COVID-19: A Commentary

From 1917-1920, the Spanish Flu pandemic resulted in 50 million dead, with 675,000 deaths occurring in the U.S.

The Spanish Flu infected a full one-third of the world’s population.
COVID-19’s rate of infection, by comparison  is less than .06% of the world’s population.  That is not to minimize the danger of COVID-19, but to point out the U.S. — and the world – have faced an invisible killer in the past.

The Spanish Flu was first reported March 4, 1918, when an Army private at Ft. Riley, Kansas complained of sore throat, fever and headache. Within hours, over 100 of his fellow soldiers had similar symptoms.  
With World War I in full swing, troops traveling to Europe spread the virus. There were four ‘waves’ of the Spanish Flu, with the second wave resulting in the most deaths.
In 1918, more U.S. soldiers died from the flu than those killed in combat. Unlike COVID-19, in which the death rate is highest in the 65 and older demographic, the Spanish Flu’s highest death rate was among healthy young adults aged 15 to 34 years of age.  

Because of that, the life expectancy rate in the United States was lowered by more than 12 years. Nearly 2 percent of those who contracted Spanish Flu died. With COVID-19, the death rate is much lower.  Much of that is due to advances in medicine in the past century.  
During the Spanish Flu pandemic, restrictions on public gatherings affected businesses and churches. Churches were closed across the country, with pastors encouraging their congregants to pray and study the scripture in lieu of gathering on the Lord’s Day.  Businesses were closed. Masks were required to help stop the spread.
Like today, some didn’t like those restrictions and history records a Baptist pastor and a Catholic priest were arrested for violating the ban on large gatherings. The issue then, as it is now, was the highly contagious nature of the virus.  

Three observations:
First, a second wave of COVID-19 is likely coming. If history of viruses is any indicator, the second wave could be more deadly than the first. It’s a mistake to not take COVID-19 seriously.  (
Second, hopefully the U.S. will survive.
It won’t be the virus that kills America. It will be apathy and a lack of commitment to our self-governing form of government.  
Third, God hasn’t lost control. This event was decreed by God before the foundation of the world.  COVID-19 did not take God by surprise. Our ways and not His ways and understanding the purpose for a deadly virus can challenge us, especially when it disrupts and impacts our lives. But that is what faith is about.
Trust God. As Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  (Job 13:15 New King James Version)

Those living in the time of the Spanish Flu did not have Zoom or Livestream options to stay in contact with their businesses, friends and family. COVID-19  is disruptive, and inconvenient, but if we learn anything from history, it is that in 1920, Americans made a sacrifice to defeat an invisible enemy.  

In spite of what is often said, history does not repeat itself.
History is linear, not cyclical. As Mark Twain said, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” meaning there are eerie similarities throughout history.
Americans could learn some important lessons from our forefathers who survived the Spanish Flu.
Stay safe.

NOTE: Steve Fair’s columns frequently appear on the news website. He is a conservative leader and chairman of the Fourth Congressional District Republican Party in Oklahoma. He can be reached by email at  His blog is