MATT GEPHARDT

Gephardt: How Utah Reacted To The Spanish Flu

Mar 10, 2020, 6:34 PM | Updated: 8:06 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – As worries about the coronavirus grow nationwide, local health experts are looking to the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak to see how Utah responded to the crisis.

The Atlantic contributing writer Yascha Mounk made an argument for “social distancing” to battle the novel coronavirus in an investigative report Tuesday.

The article looked at numbers from the Spanish flu epidemic, which infected a quarter of the U.S. population and killed tens of millions of people. It found anecdotal examples that indicate shutting down gatherings made a difference. 

For example, after a parade in Philadelphia, lots of people got sick. By the outbreak’s end, 12,000 residents were dead. Per ratio, about half as many perished in St. Louis, where health officials aggressively canceled gatherings.

 According to influenzaarchive.orga website run by the University of Michigan, Utah wasn’t hit by the Spanish flu until long after most of the rest of the country. When it did strike, Deseret News archives show devastating headlines counting the deaths.

Utah health officials acted quickly, shutting down public gathers and schools. Most Salt Lake City schools ended up being shut down for more than two months. 

Nov. 29, 1918 issue of Mt. Pleasant Pyramid details a sudden outbreak of Spanish Flu in Mt. Pleasant including the quarantine of two more families. (Digital Library Services Department at J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah) Nov. 1, 1912 issue of the Salt Lake Telegram details the arrival of additional vaccine for the influenza outbreak. (Digital Library Services Department at J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah) Oct. 9, 1918 issue of Salt Lake Telegram details the immediate closure of theaters, churches and schools by state health officials, a move that frustrated some municipal health officials at the time. (Digital Library Services Department at J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah)

It’s hard to say if it did much good. When the pandemic ended, Salt Lake City experienced a total of 10,268 cases and 576 reported deaths.

Looking at news articles from back then, the advice hasn’t changed much. Health officials recommended covering your mouth when you cough, washing your hands and, yes, avoiding large gatherings.

There is, of course, a lot that is different. Most notably, the Spanish flu was deadly for everybody, according to the CDC.

That virus didn’t distinguish much between sick, elderly people and healthy people in their 20s.

“The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic,” CDC officials said.

The nation and the world also have much better medicine in modern times that’s able to isolate and suppress viruses and fight infections, the CDC said.


Coronavirus Resources

Have you or a family member been affected by coronavirus issues in Utah? KSL TV wants to hear from you. Contact KSL by emailing social@ksl.com.

What is COVID-19? Here’s What You Need To Know To Stay Healthy

What We Know And Don’t Know About The Coronavirus

The latest coronavirus stories from KSL TV can be found here.

Your Life Your Health: How can parents prepare their home, children against coronavirus?

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

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Gephardt: How Utah Reacted To The Spanish Flu