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Health

How COVID-19s toll compares to past U.S. pandemics – PBS NewsHour

William Brangham:

Throughout this pandemic, it’s been hard to keep perspective on the true scale of the losses caused by COVID-19.

On the Washington Mall right now, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg has planted an ocean of white flags, one for each life lost to the virus.

Another metric is a comparison to the past, and, this week, the U.S. matched the death toll from another terrible virus, the 1918 influenza pandemic.

For some perspective on then and now, I’m joined by Dr. Jeremy Brown. He wrote the book “Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History.” And he is currently director of Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Brown, very good to see you again.

We have now hit his awful bar in the U.S., where we have lost as many people to COVID as we lost to the influenza pandemic. But there are meaningful differences between the two, right?

Dr. Jeremy Brown, National Institutes of Health: Yes, indeed.

It is indeed awful to be speaking at this terrible milestone, 675,000 deaths, the same number as the people who died in the U.S. in the 1918 pandemic.

But we must also recall that this pandemic is still far less deadly than that terrible one in 1918. The population in the U.S. in 1918 was around 100 million. Today, it’s around 320 million. So, if we put these numbers into proportion, then those 675,000 deaths 103 years ago, relatively speaking, would be the equivalent of some two million deaths today.

We are nowhere near that number, thankfully. But, still, today’s numbers are still a reminder of just how deadly COVID is.

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