Lessons from 1918 influenza should remind us to alter our holiday behavior

This year, Governor Gavin Newsom and other state and local leaders say a doubling of the daily coronavirus case count forces them and us to rethink this Thanksgiving. 

Newsom said that 94% of the state’s population is now in the purple tier, including six Bay Area counties.

As a result, officials say people should forgo Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends this year.

Additionally, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington ask travelers to self-quarantine when entering or leaving these states and limit contacts to their immediate households.

These restrictions, in addition to ending indoor dining and restrictions on retail restrictions, hurts retailers who normally rely on Thanksgiving week kicking off the Christmas shopping season.

It’s a tradition that was born out of the last major global pandemic.

Dr. Nancy Tomes, a Stony Brook University history professor, said that during the influenza pandemic, people were encouraged to shop early for the Christmas holidays, as part of the effort to reduce density in stores and prevent the return of the Great Flu.

During the Spanish Influenza of 1918, the United States saw a return with a vengeance of the virus in the fall and early winter.

That mirrors what’s happening now, which is why health experts and government officials stress everyone should wear a mask, socially distance, and wash hand often.

The Oakland Municipal Auditorium is being used as a temporary hospital with volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending the sick there during the influenza pandemic of 1918, Oakland, California, 1918. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Image