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The deadliest outbreak in American history

The U.S. is seeing 1,900 people die every day on average from COVID-19

Vehicles line up outside of a COVID-19 testing site.
Vehicles line up outside of a COVID-19 testing site at the Mount Olympus Senior Center in Millcreek on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. People wait approximately two hours to get tested.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The novel coronavirus has killed as many Americans as the flu pandemic that ravaged the world from 1918 to 1919.

The 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed about 675,000 people in the United States, per The Guardian. The U.S. has now surpassed that number when it comes to COVID-19 deaths, according to The Wall Street Journal.

However, the U.S. population was about one-third its current size back in 1918, so the deaths “cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country,” according to The Guardian.

Still, the COVID-19 outbreak “is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines available this time,” according to The Guardian.

In doing so, the COVID-19 outbreak has become the deadliest pandemic in American history, according to CNBC.

Dr. Howard Markel, a physician and medical historian at the University of Michigan, told CNBC that the outbreak will be taught in schools for years to come.

“This is the pandemic I will be studying and teaching to the next generation of doctors and public health students,” he said.

Of course, you can’t compare the two pandemics apples to apples. They are infecting many different people in different worlds. For example, the 1918 virus tended to feed off of young people, infecting people who were moving across the world due to World War I.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has been feasting on the elderly and those who have additional medical conditions.

And you can’t forget that the 1918 flu actually killed more people globally. Per The World Health Organization, the 1918 flu killed somewhere between 20 to 50 million people during its full run. It’s still unclear how many people actually died from the flu due to the lack of health records at the time. COVID-19 has killed about 4.7 million people across the world. The 1918 flu clearly had a profound impact overseas and less so in the United States.

So you can’t really compare the two pandemics. The world is a different place, the population is a different size and, probably most importantly, the two viruses are vastly different.

And this pandemic isn’t close to ending. A recent forecasting model from the University of Washington predicted there would be another 100,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus by December, per The Associated Press. The model suggested there would be about 730,000 total U.S. deaths from COVID-19 by December, meaning there would need to be another 55,000 deaths between now and December.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that these deaths don’t need to happen.

The COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to the public, and it can stop severe COVID-19, hospitalization and death. In fact, a recent round of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 tend to be safer from death, hospitalization and severe COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated.

Getting the vaccine can stop the pandemic from spreading even more. It’s not perfect — there are still rare breakthrough cases that can infect you with COVID-19. But the chances of death and hospitalizations are so low that it makes sense to keep you safe from the novel coronavirus.

“What is going on now is both entirely predictable, but entirely preventable,” Fauci told CNN. “We know we have the wherewithal with vaccines to turn this around.”

He added that getting more people vaccinated against the novel coronavirus will stop the next 100,000 deaths and bring us back to something that looks like normal. Only time will tell if this will happen or not.

“We could do it efficiently and quickly if we just get those people vaccinated,” he told CNN. “That’s why it’s so important now, in this crisis that we’re in that people put aside any ideologic, political or other differences, and just get vaccinated.”