Dr. Lucy Jones explains how COVID-19 pandemic draws significant parallels to past disasters

The coronavirus crisis may not be a natural disaster in the traditional sense, but the pandemic's impact on society shares similar characteristics to things like earthquakes or wildfires.

California often looks to Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones for expert guidance on preparing for earthquakes, but a lot of her work also centers on studying historic disasters, which she says draws significant parallels to past pandemics.

In her book, "The Big One," Jones looked back and researched disasters such as the influenza pandemic in 1918 that killed an estimated 50 million people.

"The improvement of public health that happened after the Spanish flu was long lasting," she said.

What strikes Dr. Jones the most, out of all the data and research from past calamities, is the humanity - and lack thereof - during a time of crisis. She describes the aftermath of the 1927 Mississippi floods as a shameful period of American history.

" A lot of people were rescued from really flooded areas by bootleggers, who had the little boats. And they took the risk of being caught out but they did it for their neighbors. They gave up something to help their neighbors," she said.

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Six months after the disaster, Jones says things got "really really ugly" in the midst of the wreckage, which presented itself in the form of racism.


"Homes gone, dependent on the goodwill of strangers, fearing financial ruin, perhaps with loved ones killed - we look for someone to blame, we turn on the outsider. A disaster can function on the individual like a mob, divorcing us from our moral compass," reads a passage from her book. "We must remember the most dangerous threat in a disaster is the threat to our humanity."

Since the coronavirus pandemic started to appear, Asian-Americans have been experiencing and reporting attacks from people blaming them for the outbreak.

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"It's easier to be angry than to be scared and that's one thing I'm seeing going on that concerns me. The amount of energy going in to who to blame," Jones said.

Still, she hopes that we can learn from the past.

"Put the blame to the side. Let's get through this and figure out what went wrong later. Right now, we need each other too much," she said.
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