NYC through the 1918 Flu and 2020 COVID Pandemics




In November of 1918, a New York Metropolis subway automobile crashed in Flatbush, Brooklyn, killing 100 passengers and injuring 250 others. Photographs of the wreckage present a wood practice twisted and bent alongside the tracks, with the New York Occasions describing the aftermath as “a darkened jungle of metal mud and wooden splinters, glass shards and iron beams projecting like bayonets.” The practice operator, Antonio Luciano, was however 25 years outdated on the time, and initially tried to stroll away from the crash, himself unhurt. It was solely after intensive media protection of the incident and the ensuing lawsuits that it was ultimately revealed Luciano was on the time recovering from a bout with the Spanish Flu, which had simply days earlier than claimed the lifetime of one in all daughters. 


By the point the Spanish Flu got here to New York Metropolis in 1918, town was sprawling. Not solely was it the most important metropolis in the US, it was effectively on its approach to changing into one of many largest cities within the historical past of the world. This New York of 100 years in the past is extra recognizable than most may assume. You would nonetheless catch a cab to a Broadway present, the Village was nonetheless the epicenter of Bohemian tradition, and the subway, with an annual ridership of round one billion (in a world with roughly 1.eight billion inhabitants), was nonetheless the popular technique of transportation for a lot of town’s inhabitants. However maybe essentially the most stunning side shared by the New York of 1918 and of at the moment is the presence of a deadly epidemic threatening to upend a lot of what makes town so distinctive, and consequently so susceptible.

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Previous to the preliminary wave in fall of 1918 of the Spanish Flu, town already had in depth historical past coping with tuberculosis, which had fallen to a mortality fee of round 130 deaths per 100,000 people from a excessive of 425 deaths per 100,000 within the 19th century, an 89% lower. The town’s Well being Commissioner on the time, Royal S. Copeland, started his response to this new influenza with confidence developed by means of town’s earlier battle with tuberculosis, invoking private and maritime quarantines, limiting enterprise hours, and educating the general public on the risks of this new strand of influenza, and what they’ll do to hinder its unfold. 

Infrastructure: 1918

Whereas the New York of at the moment sits surrounded by three main airports, the primary inflow factors of 1918’s New York had been the docks. Lots of of piers as soon as jutted out alongside each the Hudson and East rivers, enjoying host to hundreds of ships and their passengers on a regular basis. This introduced a novel problem for town’s port officers, who as early as July 1918 started illness surveillance measures with the hopes of focusing on symptomatic people, isolating them within the metropolis’s hospitals, and finishing up extra contact tracing for the ship’s sailors. 

Three ships particularly, the Norwegian Bergensfjord, the Dutch Nieuw Amsterdam, and French Rochambeau, are sometimes regarded as the harbingers of the preliminary wave of the influenza. In response to the CDC, these stricken with the Spanish Flu had been prone to develop signs inside only one to 4 days, whereas COVID-19 can conversely can take as much as two weeks, leaving a larger chance of asymptomatic unfold. For well being specialists on the time of the Spanish Flu, this meant it was simpler to separate the sick from the wholesome, with shorter quarantine occasions general in comparison with the usual two weeks of at the moment. As these three ships got here into New York Harbor, makes an attempt had been made to isolate the symptomatic sailors inside native hospitals as shortly as doable, however this wasn’t sufficient to stop the unfold among the many Naval neighborhood, and shortly the whole port of New York was positioned below a basic quarantine on September, 12th of 1918. 

Complicating the quarantine procedures additional was America’s involvement in World Warfare I, and New York’s standing as the purpose of departure for a lot of America’s armed forces heading to Western Europe. Whereas ships had been beforehand held at port in quarantine earlier than touchdown, New York’s strategic army significance meant earlier quarantine protocols had been augmented with a purpose to hold provides and troopers shifting out and in of the harbor. Within the summer season of 1918 Well being Inspectors started boarding the ships themselves, thus permitting the ships to dock instantly, sustaining the harbor’s financial system and motion. 

Infrastructure: 2020

Throughout the COVID-19 Disaster, New York Metropolis emerged as an early hotspot in the US, that means momentary journey restrictions had been put in place in effort to quarantine these leaving the Metropolis for different states, though that has now been reversed, with New York requiring vacationers coming into the state and metropolis from international locations/states with excessive an infection charges to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, whether or not that be by aircraft, automobile, or practice. 

Inside New York itself, the subway has seen a drastic discount in ridership, as excessive as 90% in some circumstances. Subway service is now repeatedly withheld in a single day from 1-5am, as trains are cleaned and sterilized to be used the next day. Over the summer season MTA buses turned fare free, in an try to each preserve a sterile setting for the bus drivers and supply important employees who depend on public transport dependable transportation in any respect hours. The long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the infrastructure of NYC will grow to be clearer as time goes on, particularly because the second wave of the virus arrives with colder climate.

In our subsequent publish, we’ll discover how colleges handled a pandemic, 100 years aside.


Henry Trinder is a author and musician residing in Greenpoint, New York. 



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