Life after the 1918 flu has lessons for our post-pandemic world
Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT) June 28, 2021
(CNN)A widespread sense that time has split into two -- or pandemics creating a "before" and "after" -- is an experience that's associated with many traumatic events.
That's the reflection of Elizabeth Outka, a professor of English at the University of Richmond and author of "Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature."
This social phenomenon is both psychologically and practically relevant, in that pandemics -- including the 1918 influenza and Covid-19 pandemics -- significantly affect how we assess and act on risk, or stay resilient, but also how we work, play and socialize.
The startling and harrowing nature of the 1918 flu and its fatal consequences induced a sense of caution that, in some places, had permanent implications for how people would respond to disease outbreaks in later decades -- such as using isolation and quarantine, according to a 2010 paper by Nancy Tomes, a distinguished professor of history at Stony Brook University.
Similarly, as the Covid-19 pandemic fades, "some existing trends will remain," said Jacqueline Gollan, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
For example, the recent expansion and use of online shopping, telehealth services, hybrid work models and technology that allows virtual gatherings will endure, Gollan said. And "given our recognition that global crises occur," she added, "we're likely to retain an inventory of cleaning supplies and personal protection materials. We are also likely to adopt habits that improve cleanliness to promote personal or group hygiene."
As the world gradually reopens in a patchwork of ways amid other crises -- much like how states' reopenings varied after the 1918 flu and World War I -- we'll be evaluating many of the lifestyle habits we've engaged in before and during the pandemic, said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
These are the changes that might stick around post-pandemic.