Grumblings about closed businesses, arguments over whether kids are safe in school and a populace growing weary of wearing masks and keeping distance. Sound pretty familiar? But as University of Michigan historian J. Alexander Navarro writes, this was how Americans felt about anti-pandemic measures a century ago – when influenza, not coronavirus, was ravaging the world.

When a first wave of disease subsided by summer 1918, people clamored to return to normal life and officials rolled back public health orders. It was a mistake; the virus wasn’t through with them yet. As Navarro explains, history provides a clear warning about what happens when social-distancing measures are lifted too soon.

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Armistice Day celebrations on Nov. 11, 1918, worried public health experts as people crowded together in cities across the U.S. AP Photo

People gave up on flu pandemic measures a century ago when they tired of them – and paid a price

J. Alexander Navarro, University of Michigan

Americans were tired of social distancing and mask-wearing. At the first hint the virus was receding, people pushed to get life back to normal. Unfortunately another surge of the disease followed.

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