Local history buff looking at similarities between COVID-19 and Spanish Flu
REGINA -- A local history fan says there are many similarities between the current COVID-19 pandemic and the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918.
“You see the same kind of struggles,” Kenton de Jong said. “The same people getting laid off, the same kind of struggles with the city and policies, and the same kind of mistakes that they made back then they are making now. It’s very similar. But the good thing is that we’re getting on it a lot faster than we did back then."
When the flu came to Saskatchewan more than a century ago, de Jong said more than 100 people were sick and 40 had died before the city started closing schools and shutting down buildings.
The virus arrived in Saskatchewan in October of 1918 with Canadian soldiers returning from the war.
The Spanish Flu killed 5,000 people in Saskatchewan and 20 million worldwide, according to the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.
“The virus spread rapidly through the population, within weeks of it hitting the city they shut down schools, shut down churches,” de Jong said. “They turned the schools into overflow hospitals. Everything you’re seeing now, they did 102 years ago.”
In 2017, de Jong began researching the Spanish Flu and realized there was no memorial for all the victims in Regina. Through fundraising, he raised $5,000 for a memorial near the unmarked graves for the Spanish Flu victims in the Regina Cemetery.
“It shut down supply lines, it paralyzed cities, it completely transformed this country," he said.
During the Spanish Flu, many people did not document their daily lives so it's unknown what people did with their time and how they were feeling. During this pandemic, universities are people to document their day-to-day activities so historians have that information in the future.
“That is a big gap in our knowledge of what people did during the day to stay busy,” de Jong said. “Back then, they had radio and the newspaper, but they didn’t have internet, they didn’t have a lot of television, if any. Some houses didn’t even have power yet. It was a very different time.”