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The coronavirus is bad, but check out what the Spanish flu did to Providence

No, this isn't Providence during the Spanish flu. It's an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1918. That pandemic killed at least 20 million people worldwide.
No, this isn't Providence during the Spanish flu. It's an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1918. That pandemic killed at least 20 million people worldwide.Associated Press/National Museum of Health

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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I think “Dave” on FXX might be my new favorite TV show. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases among Rhode Island residents grew to five Tuesday as state officials scrambled to prevent a widespread outbreak across the state. We know 24 people still have tests pending and 270 individuals have been advised to self-quarantine.


While even those small numbers are scary and you should be taking whatever precautionary measures you can to avoid being infected, it’s worth taking a look at history to see just how bad a pandemic can get.

Our friends at @PVDcityarchives sent over Providence’s “causes of death” charts for 1918 and 1919, the two years where the Spanish flu wreaked havoc on much of the world. By some accounts, a third of the world’s population contracted the disease, and millions of people died.

In Providence’s case, 1,752 people died of respiratory illnesses in 1918: 941 from influenza and 811 from pneumonia, with the vast majority of deaths coming in the final three months of the year. By comparison, the combination of heart disease, Bright’s disease, tuberculosis, cancer, and apoplexy killed 1,570 people that year.

The number of deaths dropped sharply in 1919, with 330 deaths tied to pneumonia, and 269 deaths connected to the flu.

Some fast facts:

  • Overall deaths in Providence in 1918: 5,222
  • Overall deaths in Providence in 1919: 3,543
  • The first person from Providence whose death certificate mentioned the Spanish flu was James Henry Wallworth, who was 31.
  • The city’s Board of Alderman passed a resolution in 1918 calling all gatherings and assemblies of people a “menace to the health of the community.”

Times have clearly changed, and the risk of death from the flu has decreased significantly over the last 100 years. In 2017, 206 people from Rhode Island died from the flu or pneumonia, according to the CDC.


But that doesn’t mean you should risk it. If you’re not feeling well, stay home. If you’re really not feeling well, see a doctor.


Rhode Map wants to hear from you. If you've got a scoop or a link to an interesting news story in Rhode Island, e-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

  • Rhode Island’s latest positive coronavirus cases include a woman in her 50s who recently traveled to Egypt and a hospital worker in her 30s. Both women are recovering at home. Meanwhile, a Massachusetts resident who works at a CVS corporate office in Lincoln has also tested positive for the virus.
  • Must-read from my colleague Mark Arsenault and a team of Globe reporters: How the Biogen leadership conference became the epicenter of the Massachusetts outbreak of coronavirus.
  • A former campaign aide to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello who is facing a money laundering charge was back in court Tuesday. The big question: Is this case really going to trial?
  • Joe Biden had another big night Tuesday, winning Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri. My colleagues Laura Krantz and Jazmine Ulloa call it a severe blow to US Senator Bernie Sanders.
  • As we enter one of the best times for sports – March Madness, the Master’s, opening day for baseball, WrestleMania – the Globe’s Chad Finn writes that it’s time to think about what these events will look like without fans in the stands.


Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what's happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

  • Governor Gina Raimondo will update Rhode Islanders on the coronavirus at a noon press conference.
  • The House Finance Committee will discuss the proposed billion-dollar lottery contract for IGT this afternoon.
  • It’s all-state music week for Rhode Island’s high schools, and tonight there’s a free jazz concert at URI.
  • The Providence School Board meets tonight, and it is supposed to receive an update on the state’s turnaround plan for the district.
  • Enjoying Rhode Map? Do us a favor and encourage your friends to sign up here.

Thanks for reading. Send comments and suggestions to dan.mcgowan@globe.com, or follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan. See you tomorrow.

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.