Many of the NMSU class of 2020 started their educational careers in the 2001, and many were sent home from their kindergarten classes as the World Trade Center lay in hazy heap of rubble and their teachers for once didn’t have the answers. The world was in a panic of what would come next. These same 24 and 25-year-olds will graduate in an uncertain time amidst the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their professors and administrators do not have the answers either, but all are working together to help minimize the crisis so these students can move forward with their academic progress. This generation known as Generation Z, no doubt, will someday be compared to the Greatest Generation, because they too have survived multiple catastrophic events and a worldwide pandemic. They also have learned to adapt to the ever-changing environment of terror threats and advanced technology. Only time will tell how resilient these young people will prove to be.
The pandemic changed the world overnight and every day the nature of the situation evolves to protect the public and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Universities all over the country are shutting down important parts of their operations and trying to figure out how to keep their educational missions functioning. Business not deemed essential by governors of the states are being told to close until the pandemic is under control. Routine, non-essential habits, like getting a haircut, going to the gym, hanging out, and seeing a movie, are no longer sociably acceptable. Daycare centers and schools are closed. Nothing in our lifetime has shut down our society like this. As of this writing, governors of 13 states, including New Mexico, have issued stay-at-home orders for their residents.
Similarly, in 1918, the influenza virus known as the “Spanish flu” impacted the world. Newspapers served as one of the primary sources of information about the contagion, but by the time information got out to the public, many lives were lost.
The pandemic lasted two years and epidemiologist today estimate that the Spanish flu likely caused at least 50 million deaths. Unlike COVID-19 which is most fatal to the elderly, the 1918 influenza virus had no favorite victims. The wealthy, the poor, the young, and the elderly were taken without discrimination.One very important difference between then and now is that abundant information is disseminated very rapidly to the public today. Warning systems through social media and news outlets are in place to send out immediate notifications warning us of potential hazards and promoting safe behaviors. Today more is known about how to isolate and handle large numbers of ill and dying patients and doctors can prescribe antibiotics not available in 1918.
To research the similarities and differences between past pandemics, like the influenza of 1918, and this one, a good place to start would be the Newspaper Archive database. The NMSU Library subscribes to many databases. The library’s homepage – https://lib.nmsu.edu/ – includes not only the catalog of library holdings, but also a tab to access the online databases. The staff and student employees of the Archives and Special Collections department make good use of this database to access historic newspaper articles from the Mesilla Valley, the state of New Mexico, the country, and the world. Approximately 400 years of newspapers are accessible on the site, with Mesilla Valley newspapers dating back to 1878. The images below are from the Mesilla Valley Democrat and the Rio Grande Republican, accessed from the Newspaper Archive database. For more information contact email@example.com.