Hunker Down Diaries: Centenarians Describe Life During 1918 Pandemic And Now : Coronavirus Updates Joe Newman was 5 when the 1918 flu pandemic broke out. Now 107, he and his 100-year-old fiancée are living in lockdown together in Florida and have a decidedly long view on the current crisis.

For Centenarian Survivor Of 1918 Flu Pandemic, Coronavirus Is Just Another 'Problem'

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When the 1918 flu pandemic broke out, Joe Newman was 5 years old. Today he's 107. He lives in a community of seniors in Sarasota, Fla. with his fiancée, Anita Sampson. Anita just turned 100, and they had planned a big party with cake and karaoke. But because of the coronavirus, the party was canceled. Now they are in lockdown. As part of a new series called Hunker Down Diaries, the producers at Radio Diaries sent the couple a recorder - well-sanitized - so they could interview each other on Anita's 100th birthday.

JOE NEWMAN: OK, it's on. Microphone is plugged in. The light is red. All right, now I say something. I am Joe Newman, and I am with my partner Anita, who, today, is 100 years old.

ANITA SAMPSON: And we're sitting here side-by-side. Well, first of all, I woke up this morning, and I was glad when I saw you open your eyes. And every morning, we both always check to see if we're still breathing before we get out of bed (laughter).

NEWMAN: Yes. Yes.

SAMPSON: But getting up this morning and seeing what's going on in the world, it's very sad. But we have adjusted to it, and we're really following all the rules just the way you're supposed to.

NEWMAN: Yeah, and we're told to stay in the apartment and are not supposed to go round mingle with the others.

SAMPSON: Personally, I've never seen anything like this before in my entire life. But Joe, what was the first thing you remember about the 1918 flu?

NEWMAN: Strangely, the way I remember it is I remember the neighborhood. In a house maybe a hundred yards across the street from us was a family we knew, and one of that family was about my age. And I remember that he died because of the flu. Of course, as a kid, 5 years old, death didn't mean that much to me except that he was now missing. I also remembered public health putting signs on the door of the family. The family with the disease was quarantined.

SAMPSON: I don't remember, except what my mother told me when I got older. And she said there was so much death. She was in her early 20s, and she would go out into the streets and help people that were just dropping. They would just be lying there on the streets, but she never got it. How would you compare what was going on then to what is happening now?

NEWMAN: As far as this coronavirus, I take a philosophical view. It's another event. It's another problem. Over 107 years, I've faced other problems. Living is a problem. You do what you need to do to handle the problem that's in front of you at this moment. And this moment, it's a virus, which unfortunate - we don't understand too much about. You know, especially the fact that it's supposed to affect the elderly more than those younger. And well, you have to remember, I'm a little bit older than you are.

SAMPSON: (Laughter).

NEWMAN: And being my age - and it's hard to say this, but you have days when you would almost welcome death because you figure, well, you've been here long enough. So be it. What's your reaction?

SAMPSON: Well, about two weeks before we were told that we had to stay in our apartment, I had gotten a cold. And I was really scared that this was happening to me. Fortunately, it was just a mild cold, but I was getting anxious because I wanted to reach 100 (laughter). All of a sudden, it became very important to me. And all of a sudden, I didn't want to die.

NEWMAN: You know, this is new to me. You've always indicated to me that you had no fear.

SAMPSON: You know, the reason why I don't want to die is because I like being around you. I like being in this relationship, and I really don't want it to stop.

NEWMAN: Well, that's the best thing I've heard in the last two hours.

SAMPSON: (Laughter) But do you love me?

NEWMAN: Do I (laughter) - do I love you? I think so. I think so. In spite of our age, in spite of the fact that together we're 207 - you know, the years that we can look forward to, whatever they be, whether they be many or few and even if they're just days - you know, to look forward to them and hope for another one.

SAMPSON: Isn't that beautiful? I think we've been reminiscing enough, and I think it's time for our nap.

NEWMAN: All right.

SAMPSON: (Laughter).



That's Joe Newman and Anita Sampson in Sarasota, Fla.

CHANG: Their story comes to us from Radio Diaries as part of a new series called "Hunker Down Diaries," stories from people thrown together by the pandemic.

SHAPIRO: If you have an idea for the series, we'd love to hear from you. We're especially interested in unusual quarantine situations or people hunkering down with unexpected company.

CHANG: Write to us at

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