COVID-19 will change our world in so many ways. Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hopes the world will end the custom of handshakes going forward. It’s a custom that dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece. It was a symbol of peace and a way to demonstrate that neither person was carrying a weapon.
What wasn’t known was that handshaking can transmit germs, bacteria, and viruses (like the common cold and flu) as well as the current pandemic causing COVID-19. Now that we know this, why would we continue this ancient tradition?
The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 was raging in America when in Winchester, Virginia, Austin A. Kelly would begin his ministry at the church my wife and I are members of, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. Because of this global pandemic the chalice, or common cup, at the administration of the Lord’s Supper was to be abolished in favor of the individual glasses.
The first communion services conducted by Pastor Kelly during the Easter services of 1919 gave communicants the option of either drinking from the common cup or receiving their wine via individual cups. Virtually all communicants preferred the new innovation, and from that point until the present day, individual cups have been the way wine has been received at Grace Church.
YouTube Easter Service
I learned about all of this as my wife and I attended the 2020 Easter Service at our church via YouTube.
In January of 1942, Grace Church began the radio broadcasting of church services over WINC-1400AM. Those radio broadcasts ended long before our arrival in Winchester, Virginia.
COVID-19 would see Grace Church forced to innovate again by broadcasting its services on its newly created YouTube channel.
Will some members of the church prefer to attend church via a YouTube channel or Facebook page versus attending services wearing a mask and protective gloves going forward? Only time will tell.
What we do know is that global events, like world wars, depressions and pandemics bring about lasting changes and a new normal.
What We Can Learn from the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919
Much like with COVID-19, there were no vaccines or treatments for the Spanish flu when the outbreak spread. The only ways to mitigate it’s spread was to have people isolate themselves from one another via self-quarantine.
What history has shown is that cities that took the Spanish flu seriously did better than those that didn’t.
By the way, how the name “Spanish flu” came about has its own interesting story. The 1918 pandemic began near the end of World War I. Countries engaged in the war limited journalist to reporting only positive or encouraging news, and so reporting anything about this flu bug was forbidden, but Spain was a neutral country during this war and so its newspapers reported on the flu outbreak popularizing the term “Spanish Influenza.”
It should also be noted that influenza pandemics have been regularly occurring every thirty to forty years since the 16th century. So, the COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t really have caught the world by surprise.
One study of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic that I found interesting was the impact it made on the cities of Philadelphia and St. Louis. When the first cases of the Spanish flu showed up in St. Louis, it took the city only two days to close schools, libraries, courthouses, churches, theaters, playgrounds as well as other venues where numbers of people usually congregate. Philadelphia didn’t take similar actions until two weeks after their first cases of the flu were diagnosed.
St. Louis city’s quick action saw its death rate one-eighth of what Philadelphia experienced from the pandemic. However, when things looked better and social distancing measures were rolled back, a second wave of the flu struck and deaths went up again. In fact, the second wave of the flu (October 1918) proved to be deadlier than the first (March 1918), and by the time it was over in 1920, 675,000 Americans would have lost their lives.
What COVID-19 Has Taught Us
Each society produces its own specific vulnerabilities. In 1918, it was American soldiers returning from World War I that would bring home the Spanish flu.
Yale historian Frank Snowden has studied the impact infectious diseases have made over the centuries and notes that they have “altered outcomes of wars, inspired political reform, demolished revolutions, transformed entire societies’, relationships with God and fundamentally changed the course of human history.”
For positive change to take place, it will take leadership from the top and a realization from all citizens on how important the role of government is in creating a national plan for their health and well-being. It’s our current health and economic crisis that brings home the results you get when government abdicates its role.
Free Market Thoughts
Capitalism thrives on infinite growth, but we live on a planet with finite resources.
For most of my broadcasting career, every year brought double digit revenue growth at my radio stations, until America’s Great Recession of 2008. Revenue growth never returned to that level in the decade since, yet the number of radio signals in America has continued to grow. The radio industry has created an infinite number of advertising avails in a world with a finite number of advertising dollars.
It’s a myth to think that we can grow everything infinitely without facing the consequences.
A Big Re-Think
No one has the answer to all the world’s current problems. Any plan that has a chance of succeeding needs to take a collective, collaborative effort to devise a global society that lives in harmony with its climate, its resources, its economies and the lives of its people.
I’m hopeful that COVID-19 is the wake-up call that begins real meaningful change in every aspect of our personal and professional lives.