Social media users all over have been sharing an image and story online that claims the popular music festival Woodstock, which took place in August 1969, happened in the middle of a pandemic.
These claims reference an article called “Woodstock occurred in the middle of a pandemic”, which appears on the website of the American Institute for Economic Research, written by Jeffrey A. Tucker. ( here ).
The claims state: “The Hong Kong Flu (H3N2) of 1968, killed 1 million worldwide, and 100,000 in the US, most excess deaths being in people 65+ (via the CDC). Nothing changed economically, nothing closed, no social distancing, no masks. No one was considered selfish then.”
The author goes on to say in his article that stock markets didn’t crash because of the flu, and congress passed no legislation.
“The Federal Reserve did nothing” the author stated. “Not a single governor acted to enforce social distancing, curve flattening (even though hundreds of thousands of people were hospitalized), or banning of crowds. No mothers were arrested for taking their kids to other homes. No surfers were arrested. No daycares were shut even though there were more infant deaths with this virus than the one we are experiencing now. There were no suicides, no unemployment, no drug overdoses attributable to flu.”
“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms those figures on its website, where it says that the disease was first noted in the United States in September 1968.”
While Reuters said their fact check team did not attempt to verify or disprove the entire content of the article with the headline that was published on the website of the American Institute for Economic Research, it now says the claim is misleading because the title states that Woodstock happened “in the middle of a pandemic”.
“Woodstock happened between the first and second waves in the United States of the H3N2 Hong Kong flu that emerged in 1968, but not during a peak in infections and months after the first season of the flu had ended in the U.S.”, Reuters wrote.
Woodstock became one of the leading symbols of the 1960s counter-culture, with performances from Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, Janis Joplin, Santana, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and many others. The organizers expected 30,000 people but hundreds of thousands showed up. (here)
Media covered the pandemic but it never became a big issue.
“The only actions governments took was to collect data, watch and wait, encourage testing and vaccines, and so on. The medical community took the primary responsibility for disease mitigation, as one might expect. It was widely assumed that diseases require medical not political responses”, Tucker said in his article on the American Institute for Economic Research.
“We had the Vietnam War, social welfare, public housing, urban renewal, and the rise of Medicare and Medicaid. We had a president swearing to cure all poverty, illiteracy, and disease. Government was as intrusive as it had ever been in history. But for some reason, there was no thought given to shutdowns.”
Joel Rosenman, co-producer of Woodstock, told Reuters via email:
“Woodstock was not partying in defiance of pandemic containment measures, because at the time of Woodstock, there was no pandemic, and there were no containment measures to defy. In the months following the December-January peak of the pandemic, the flu all but disappeared. By mid-‘69, any preoccupation with the virus had given way to widespread unconcern. Media coverage had dwindled to virtually zero. As far as the nation was concerned, the pandemic was in the rear-view mirror. It was during this time, not during the pandemic months of the previous winter, that my co-producers, John Roberts, Artie Kornfeld, Mike Lang and I created Woodstock—without so much as a thought about ‘pandemic.’ It wasn’t until the next flu season, several months after Woodstock, that we all found ourselves in a horrifying déjà flu.”
A New York Times article from August 17, 1969 reported that another Woodstock producer, Michael Lang, said a dozen doctors came to the festival not because of “widespread illnesses” but because of “the potential threat of a virus cold or pneumonia epidemic among such a large gathering.” (here)
Bojan Pancevski wrote in the Wall Street Journal pointing out, “In 1968-70, news outlets devoted cursory attention to the virus while training their lenses on other events such as the moon landing and the Vietnam War, and the cultural upheaval of the civil-rights movements, student protests and the sexual revolution.”
The death toll from the Hong Kong flu was comparable with the 1957 Asian flu pandemic that killed 1.1 million worldwide (here). As of May 12, 2020 at least 286,669 people globally had died during the current COVID-19 outbreak (coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html). The worst pandemic in modern history, the Spanish Influenza of 1918, is estimated to have killed at least 50 million.
Population in 1969 in the U.S. was 200 million as compared with 328 million today.
“What happened between then and now?”, Tucker asks viewers in his article. “Was there some kind of lost knowledge, as happened with scurvy, when we once had sophistication and then the knowledge was lost and had to be re-found? For COVID-19, we reverted to medieval-style understandings and policies, even in the 21st century.”
“It’s all very strange”, he adds.