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East Texas health expert looks at past pandemics to gain understanding in latest wave of COVID

NET Health’s Russell Hopkins finds similarities in latest wave compared to Spanish flu pandemic
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - As East Texas fights another wave of COVID-19, health experts are finding similarities between this pandemic and those from the past. And they say history could give us a glimpse of what’s to come.

The images from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 look like scenes from 2020 or 2021: people wearing masks--and advertisements for nurses.

An advertisement for nurses during the 1918 pandemic.
An advertisement for nurses during the 1918 pandemic.(CDC)

Along with being NET Health’s director of emergency preparedness, Russell Hopkins is also a student of pandemics past.

“I think you can draw parallels to 1918′s Spanish flu, in that it went around as a pretty virulent form of flu and lots of people died. But in 1919 it came back in a lot stronger fashion,” Hopkins said. “It killed young people, literally in 12 to 24 hours.”

He said it’s similar to the way the Delta variant has taken over as the dominant strain and infected younger people compared to the original strain.

“It was very selective,” Hopkins said.

He added that this also isn’t the first time society has been split over mitigation measures.

“It wasn’t politicized to the degree it is here,” he said. “But there was quite a bit of ‘well why do this, why do I have to, we don’t know why we’re doing particular public health measures.’”

As for how a pandemic ends, Hopkins said that happens when the virus runs out of fuel.

“You get a lot of mutations and the virus, because it’s going through so many people in the population, a lot of times it just becomes background noise. It’s endemic, but the virility of that virus has reduced to the point that it’s now kind of like having a common cold.”

And as for that question: will we have to deal with COVID for the rest of our lives? Hopkins has faith in vaccination technology.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think the technology platform in the vaccine has a real good chance to rapidly respond if we see a variant that is really vaccine-resistant. They can make those changes and address that particular variant. So again, we’ve run up to the wall of public acceptance and what will they tolerate.”

Hopkins said he’s unsure how much longer this pandemic will last, considering a delay in herd immunity through vaccination. And for all that’s been lost to COVID, Hopkins said we’ve gained experience to prepare for the future.

“We’ve created a class of first responders that have these new skills,” he said. “We’ve put in negative pressure rooms and learned how to operate vaccine clinics and testing centers on the fly. A lot of people have new skills and they’re going to want to use those in the future. So while it looks pretty bleak right now, I have hope for the future that we’re going to see at least some sort of Renaissance post-pandemic.”

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