Once the CCP Virus began taking a major toll on American lives and the nation’s economy, I became aware of an historical comparison that I found as astounding and revealing as it’s been widely ignored. Today, months later, I’m still astounded by it, and it remains widely ignored. It’s the mind-boggling-by-any-measure contrast between the way that the current pandemic has been generally viewed and handled, and the way an even deadlier pandemic was handled between late 1968 and the winter of 1970.
That earlier disease outbreak was called the Hong Kong flu (after its supposed origin point), and according to U.S government health agencies, it killed about 100,000 Americans. And the reason I’ve found this fact astounding and revealing is that although this fatality number is just under half that currently attributed to the CCP Virus (218,000), as a share of the U.S. population then, it was only slightly lower. The actual numbers? In 1968, the fatality rate was 0.050 percent (in a population of 200.71 million). Today, it’s 0.066 percent (in a population of 330.47 million).
And even so, the economy and major institutions like schools were left almost completely open. I was in my mid-teens, and I don’t even remember any mention of it – and I was the kind of kid of read newspapers and watched the evening news. And my memory seems pretty accurate, as here’s the historical account that I’ve found whose descriptions of curbs and impacts that were put in place are the most extensive:
“All 50 states experienced increased school absenteeism during the pandemic; 23 faced school and college closures and 31 saw elevated worker absenteeism….
“Newspaper articles chronicled the widespread college closures, slowdowns in business and industry, and threats to Christmas mail deliveries. In December, the Apollo 8 astronauts were vaccinated to protect them from pandemic influenza in advance of their December 21 moon-orbiting flight, and President [Lyndon B.] Johnson was hospitalized with a respiratory infection that his aides said ‘could be called the flu.’ National concerns were reflected in a December 19 New York Times editorial describing the pandemic as ‘one of the worst in the nation’s history,’ bemoaning the ‘amount of discomfort and distress suffered by the millions who have already been hit,’ and the potential for ‘billions of dollars’ associated with treatment and lost productivity.”
Moreover, because the widespread shutdown and lockdown and stay-at-home route wasn’t taken, it’s more than reasonable to assume that collateral public health damage was minimized as well. That’s especially important because treatments for serious physical and mental health problems were so much less advanced back then. And of course, for all the New York Times‘ understandable economic concerns, growth and employment and overall living standards were barely affected.
These diseases are by no means identical. For example, the Hong Kong flu was particularly likely to hit school-age children – roughly the opposite of the CCP Virus pattern, in which seniors have been by far the most vulnerable.
But it seems fair to express the difference between the anti-pandemic strategies of today and yesteryear in this way: During the late-1960s, the federal and state and local governments let life proceed pretty much as normal, and although about 100,000 died, both non-virus public health damage (including deaths) and economic distress were minimized. Nowadays, much of the economy and other institutions (including schools) have been closed for varying periods and many remain closed today, and although the recorded death rate is virtually identical, the non-virus public health damage has been extensive, and the nation is struggling to climb out of its worse economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Without dismissing the need for precautionary and preventive measures (focusing on those most vulnerable,, to be sure), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that viewed holistically – as is essential – the U.S. CCP Virus approach, as ragged as it’s been, has enabled the perfect to be the enemy of the good.