By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
Historically, pandemics can’t be shaken off in a season. The 1918 influenza, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, lasted until 1920, and deaths peaked in some U.S. cities long after the leading edge of the virus hit.
Also historically, people have grown impatient of restrictions intended to slow the spread of deadly viruses. (Above, two men trying to get others to join them in wearing face-masks in flu-ridden Paris in 1919.)
In that sense, today’s fluctuating attempts to fight COVID-19 are nothing new. But researchers studying the coronavirus say it is not a second wave that is striking nearly two dozen states these days with rising infections—but more of a continuation of a long first wave of a startlingly infectious enemy. Stubbornly rising cases in North Carolina and Arizona alarm them; particularly as participation in face-mask wearing and social distancing wanes in some places. But researchers also understand that the highly decentralized U.S. approach means some states simply will be more aggressive than others at trying to limit infections and deaths.
“As we go through this next six, nine, 12, 15 months of this, how do we keep putting energy into COVID when people are just so tired of it?” says Alexis Madrigal, who tracks coronavirus data with the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic.
Restrictions always have been tough to follow. In the 1660s, as London succumbed to the bubonic plague, people flouted quarantines and social distancing, meeting at businesses and holding big daytime funerals, noted diarist Samuel Pepys with frustration. One night Pepys, lonely and standing before a window outside a bar, stared longingly at the jolly, sociable people inside. Reluctantly, he turned away, deciding he didn’t want to die for a drink.
“Throughout human and literary history what makes pandemics alike is not mere commonality of germs and viruses but that our initial responses were always the same,” writes Nobel-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, completing a novel set around a 1901 pandemic. “The initial response to the outbreak of a pandemic has always been denial. National and local governments have always been late to respond and have distorted facts and manipulated figures to deny the existence of the outbreak.”
Given all that we know about the coronavirus—and don’t know—what should a person do?
Maybe we should follow the epidemiologists, the people who understand the most about deadly diseases. Most of 511 epidemiologists interviewed by the New York Times expect to be wearing face-masks outside for at least another year, and nearly two thirds of them say they won’t attend concerts, sporting events, or religious services during that time.
Some of these specialists sound like Pepys, dying to laugh and joke inside a bar again.
“The worst casualty of the epidemic,” McGill University’s Eduardo Franco told the Times, is the “loss of human contact.”
“If we have a good vaccine,” added Indiana University’s Christina Ludema, “perhaps the first thing I'd do is more hugs.”
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Instagram photo of the day
Pilgrimage: The sacred, receding glaciers of the Peruvian Andes are a backdrop to an annual festival by indigenous Quechua nations. The glaciers, thought to be imbued with healing properties, are central to the spiritual pilgrimage by up to 100,000 people. The multiday Qoyllur Riti festival celebrates the reappearance of the Pleiades constellation in the night sky. The glaciers are tied not only to faith but to identity, photographer Pete Muller says.
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Today in a minute
Bury the flag of treason: After the Marines banned displays of the pro-slavery Confederate flag, Sen. (and Army vet and former Veterans Affairs official) Tammy Duckworth urged the other branches of the U.S. military to follow suit. On Tuesday, the Navy announced it would prohibit the Confederate flag "from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines." Retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, a former commander of Fort Benning in Georgia, urged the Army to rename that base and nine other Army installations named after Confederate generals. "Bad policy that such important Army posts be named after traitors. Time for change," Eaton wrote. The idea was shot down—for now—by the White House.
In other news: The Senate unanimously confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown to be the next Air Force chief and the first African American leader of a military service. Brown is the second African American officer to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after former Chairman Gen. Colin Powell. Brown, who experienced racism in his career, told CNN that he understood the importance—and difficulty—of tackling racial animus in the military at this momentous time. "I'm thinking about how full of emotion I am, not just for George Floyd, but for the many African Americans that have suffered the same fate as George Floyd."
The Tulsa Massacre: The decision of President Trump to host a campaign rally at the site of one of America’s worst massacres of black people—initially choosing a day dedicated to African American freedom—has, perhaps inadvertently, educated millions of people about a horrible chapter in the nation’s history. The president, facing criticism for his timing, delayed until Saturday his rally in Tulsa, originally scheduled for Friday, a day known as Juneteenth. Tulsa was the site of the killings of an estimated 300 African Americans by a white mob in 1921, a massacre that was hidden from generations of Americans. Last year, many learned of the massacre for the first time when the hit HBO series Watchmen re-created the event.
Speaking of Juneteenth: Nike, Twitter, the New York Times, and Vox Media are among companies that are making Juneteenth a paid day off, CNN reports. Nike CEO John Donahoe announced the holiday as one among many steps the company was taking in response to the nationwide protests. Juneteenth honors the day in 1865 on which, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, and announced that enslaved African Americans were free.
Wrong question: Don’t ask if these George Floyd protests are like 1968, writes historian Thomas Sugrue. Instead, he suggests in a Nat Geo article, look at the spasms of American violence against African Americans in 1919-21 and 1943. “But more than ever before, today’s demonstrations are markedly interracial,” Sugrue writes. “It suggests a new phase of opposition that is uniting groups who did not have much in common for most of American history.” How might these protests end? Much depends on what the government does, writes ethicist Peniel E. Joseph for Nat Geo. “Americans of all backgrounds have a generational opportunity,” Joseph writes, ”to choose love over fear, King’s 'Beloved Community' over 'Law and Order,' investing in racially segregated and economically impoverished black neighborhoods over punishing, containing, surveilling, and imprisoning black people."
The big takeaway
Some pomp, given the circumstance: Look closely at the photo above. It looks like a real graduation ceremony, with the 2020 touch of face-masks. But it was a staged graduation of a few Columbia University students, each wearing their pre-ordered graduation attire. The unsettled, not-real sense haunts the Class of 2020, writes Jordan Salama, a Class of 2019 grad, for Nat Geo. First-generation college students say they often face family hardship, such as relatives losing jobs, as they fill out job applications. “It just gets burdensome to think that I may not be able to afford to eat next month.” says Fedjounie (June) Philippe, a Princeton senior who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti as a child. “I’m just lying in a pool of uncertainty.”
Subscriber exclusive: How students are documenting their disrupted education
Overheard at Nat Geo
Remembering Bruce Lee: Coinciding with a new biographical documentary on the movie and martial arts star, ESPN’s Elaine Teng asked eight prominent Asian and Asian American illustrators “to reimagine the icon who redefined what an Asian man could be in America.” Marcos Chin, who grew up in Canada, incorporated in his illustration (above) the number eight, which is considered lucky. Of Lee, Chin said: “He was one of the first to give voice to a Chinese man that wasn’t comedic but strong. He broke open the door for not just actors but Asian people who have immigrated to another place.” China-born, L.A.-based illustrator Jiaqi Wangwanted to show how one man could change the world (below). "I drew people from different backgrounds all doing martial arts, wearing the yellow jumpsuit that is his symbol," she said. "He brings this culture to all the people, all around the world."
In a few words
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The last glimpse
The voyage that changed Darwin: Just graduated from college, Charles Darwin was restless at home—and his prospects looked bleak. Then a prof wrote to him about the chance to serve aboard a ship mapping the tip of South America and collecting scientific samples. Darwin’s voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle took five years, and also took him to Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and many of the Atlantic and Pacific islands. His observations informed the development of his theory of evolution, Alison Pearn writes for Nat Geo’s History magazine. Pictured above, a Conrad Martens painting of the Beagle off the coast of Tierra Del Fuego in 1834.
Subscriber exclusive: Darwin's first—and only—trip around the world began a scientific revolution