Wilson already had one domestic crisis — a world war — to worry about, making the pandemic an afterthought.
“He had an OCD personality and he focused intensely on the war, period,” Barry said. “Nothing distracted him.”
At the time, there were no federal health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health. The government’s role was limited to war, collecting taxes, and making federal law, Markel told CNN. Local governments played a key role in health issues.
Wilson’s administration kept his illness a secret
Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis is an extraordinary development a month before a presidential election. He has dismissed experts’ guidance on wearing masks and holding socially distanced events even as the virus has killed more than 208,000 people nationwide.
Wilson was not exactly a picture of health when he got the flu at age 63. Before his illness, he’d suffered several health problems, including asthma and a stroke. He got the flu in 1919 while in Paris, where he spent several months negotiating the peace treaty after the war.
Wilson became ill and coughed so severely his doctor initially thought he’d been poisoned in an assassination attempt. He started having hallucinations that he was surrounded by spies. But his administration kept his illness a secret. There were no televisions and no social media back then so it did not take much effort.
“He thought the French were spying on him. He also believed he was personally responsible for things like all the furniture (in his room),” Barry said. “If he weren’t President, deathly ill in the middle of the peace conference, it might have been funny.”
The 1918 flu mostly killed young people
While last century’s pandemic — it was often called the “Spanish flu,” even though it didn’t originate in Spain — had some similarities to the coronavirus, there were some differences.
With the flu, people had horrific symptoms like bleeding from the nose, mouth, eyes and ears. The 1918 virus also mostly killed the young, which left researchers puzzled. The mortality rate was especially high in people between ages 20-40 and in children under 5.
“Roughly two-thirds of the deaths were age 18-50, and the peak age for death was 28,” Barry said. “Soldiers were, of course, in the age group that was the prime target. The US military training camps obviously had high mortality.”
Fear swept over the…