COVID-19 Explained to Young People: What History Can Teach Us

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As part of the SCOOP capsule series! on COVID-19, we are interested today in what history can teach us about the ways of experiencing a pandemic. Like the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, SARS, avian flu or Ebola, COVID-19 will undoubtedly make history in its own way. These diseases are responsible for millions of deaths over time, but nevertheless allow advances in medical, technological and human terms ... Have we learned from previous epidemics? What lessons can we learn from the present situation? SCOOP! explains to you in video.

As part of the SCOOP capsule series! on COVID-19, we are now interested in what history can teach us about coping with a pandemic. COVID-19 has been in full swing for several weeks now and continues to leave its mark all over the planet. Like the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, SARS, avian flu or Ebola, COVID-19 will undoubtedly make history in its own way. Unfortunately, all these diseases are responsible for millions of deaths over time, but nevertheless allow society to make advancements on the medical, technological, human levels ... Have we learned from previous epidemics? What lessons can we learn from the exceptional situation we are currently experiencing? SCOOP! explains to you in video.

Do not repeat the mistakes of the past, start over what worked well

In the last 100 years, the world has witnessed several pandemics: the Spanish flu in 1918, the first cases of AIDS in 1981, SARS in 2002, H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 and COVID-19 which continues to increase. wreak havoc for several months now. Until a vaccine is found, COVID-19 cannot be brought under control, but we can still slow its progress by strictly following the containment and social distancing measures prescribed by the government.

Flatten the curve

It is not yesterday that such measures exist and they have been able to show their effectiveness throughout history. For example, in 1918, at the very beginning of the Spanish flu pandemic, the city of Philadelphia and the city of St. Louis adopted completely opposite strategies: Philadelphia allowed a parade of some 200,000 people, while St. Louis prohibited everything. gathering. As shown in the graph below, the Philadelphia curve (in black) shows that there was a fairly high death toll from the start of the pandemic. In contrast, Saint-Louis (in gray) has managed to flatten its curve and remain constant by enforcing social distancing measures for its population. The rate of Spanish flu was therefore two times lower in St. Louis than in Philadelphia.

Source: RAD


Quarantine is a concept that has also been around for a very long time. Indeed, it was in the 14th century, in Italy, that the phenomenon was observed for the first time. Boats arriving from a plague-infested area had to isolate themselves for 40 days… Hence the term “quarantine”. During the Great Plague of London in 1665, quarantine was also used to isolate the sick. Houses with infected people were barricaded and a cross was added with the sign “God Have Mercy On Us”. Until the 20th century, several quarantines took place in lazarets (establishments with very thick walls and difficult living conditions). Several were also trying to escape. Today, the quarantine is going much better, in the comfort of our own home, and for a period of 14 days.

Vaccination to save lives

One of the great advances in the field of medicine is certainly the arrival of vaccines to immunize the population against potentially fatal diseases. During vaccination, the bacteria or attenuated virus is introduced into the body. An attenuated infectious agent is harmless to our health since it cannot cause disease. This is where the immune system kicks in by making antibodies to fight off the bacteria or virus in question. The body therefore trains itself to fight the enemy and if it encounters it for real, it will be protected from it and will not fall ill!

The best example and which, moreover, appears to be one of the greatest successes in public health history, is the eradication of smallpox through vaccination. This disease, for hundreds and hundreds of years, killed 30% people in two weeks. Just in the 20th century, we are talking about more than 300 million deaths from smallpox. After decades of effort and a worldwide vaccination campaign in the late 1960s, on October 29, 1979, the WHO declared smallpox eradicated from the face of the earth.

In the case of COVID-19, all scientific communities are working day and night on the design of a vaccine. No date has yet been put forward regarding the possible marketing. Clinical trials are being carried out, among others in Seattle, where 45 volunteers will test for six weeks a vaccine called mRNA-1273. If these tests prove to be conclusive, it could take another eighteen months before marketing. It should be noted that no cure has been found against a coronavirus (the family of COVID-19) in history. However, current research is encouraging and could stop the pandemic in the coming months. 

Disinformation: from yesterday to today

It is not new either that disinformation abounds in times of crisis. For example, during the Spanish flu of 1918 (which coincided with the First World War), the media avoided talking about this pandemic so that the soldiers did not lose their motivation to fight. Once the war was over, false rumors of a cure for the Spanish flu abounded: miraculous water to prevent disease, magic liquor to kill flu germs, etc. This phenomenon of disinformation is therefore not new and increases during a crisis. People need to be reassured, to know all the answers, to have a feeling of control over the situation. In these times of a pandemic, it's easy to let emotions get the best of your senses. This is why we find so much content with questionable intentions that can lead to different cognitive biases, thereby altering critical judgment. Some gurus and charlatans therefore take advantage of the situation to influence and rally as many people as possible to their cause.

The number of false information circulating in times of COVID-19 is breaking all records. Medical misinformation, conspiracy theories, rumors about government measures, hijacked photos and videos, attempted scams or hoaxes, “fake news” about COVID-19 spreads faster than the virus. It is therefore important, even essential, in the context of the current crisis, to choose credible sources of information when it comes time to get informed, such as Radio-CanadaPressThe newsScience-Press Agencythe École branchée. In addition to trusting these media that publish reliable content, web specialists have set up platforms where they sift through an impressive amount of news to disentangle the true from the false. Les Décrypteurs de Radio-Canadathe rumor detector from the Agence Science-Presse and the Decoders of the newspaper Le Monde are experts in dealing with fake news that spreads on social media. They set the record straight and tell you the truth, among other things, on everything related to COVID-19.

For the first time in its history, the entire Quebec population is affected by all of these exceptional measures. In what ways do you think COVID-19 will make history? What lessons can we learn from all of this, once the pandemic is behind us?

Quiz time

Click here to have access to a quiz created from the Quizizz platform. You will be in "practice" mode, so no adult is required to start the quiz. You will even have all the time you want to answer the questions.

For teachers, use this link to access the quiz. Then click on “Play Live”. A window will open to assign the parameters of your choice. Now click on “Host game” and invite the students to go to by providing them with the game code that appeared on the screen. When everyone is ready to begin, click on “Start”.

Have a good quiz!

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