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by Exactly Right
This Podcast Will Kill You

COVID-19 Chapter 20: Looking forward by looking back


Over the past year and a half, we have learned so much about this virus, but there is still more to know. There always will be. We have seen the widespread impacts that the pandemic has had on all facets of society, but there is still more to see. There always will be. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and its effects will continue to be felt for years to come. What can we expect in a post-pandemic future? Frankly, no one knows. But we can make some guesses based on what we have already seen. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our best reference points for comparison has been, of course, the deadly and devastating 1918 influenza pandemic. What can that pandemic tell us about our own uncertain future, and where do comparisons simply fall short? Did the lessons learned from the 1918 pandemic change the course of COVID-19? Or were we doomed to repeat history? To help us look forward by looking back, we are so excited to be joined by John Barry, award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of books such as The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history (interview recorded May 25, 2021).

This marks the tentative final episode in our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on the COVID-19 pandemic. There is still more ground to cover (there always will be), and it’s entirely possible we’ll produce additional episodes in the future, but this is it for now. Thank you to everyone who has been interviewed, who has sent in their firsthand account, and who has listened. We appreciate all of you so very much.

To wrap up this episode as we always do, we discuss the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below: 
Can you remind us of some of the similarities as well as some of the differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been highly politicized, both in the US and elsewhere. Did we see a similar intersection of politics and public health in 1918, and if so, how did that affect both the way that pandemic played out as well as the aftermath?
You wrote that the single most important thing for our society and our governments to do in this pandemic was to tell the truth. How did countries fail to tell the truth in 1918? And how would you rate our honesty during this present pandemic?
How do today’s methods of science communication differ from the ways the public got their public health information back in 1918? Was there a similar issue with rampant disinformation campaigns?
How did the 1918 influenza affect the public health infrastructure in the US? Did it change the general perception of the role of public health?
During the 1918 pandemic did we see countries working together to try and solve the influenza crisis, or did we see intense nationalism due to the ongoing war?
After the 1918 pandemic came the Roaring Twenties, with its dramatic lifestyle change and economic growth. Could you talk about what this period looked like and how much of it came as a reaction to the end of the 1918 influenza pandemic and WWI? 
How long did the 1918 pandemic live in our collective consciousness as a vivid reality? Given its scale and duration, do you think this pandemic will live in our collective consciousness more vividly?
Can you talk about some of the limitations in applying lessons learned from the 1918 influenza pandemic to today’s reality?
What are some things that you hope we keep from this pandemic, either personally or as a society?

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by Exactly Right