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

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.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Matt Gephardt

Brenda White cookies...
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Rent prices down nationwide but very high in Utah

All over the country, the cost of rent is finally starting to go down. But that is not the case here in Utah.
1 day ago
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Cybersecurity experts caution shoppers to take it slow while shopping online

For many of us, Christmastime is magical. For scammers, it’s especially magical. Here's what to beware of when shopping online.
7 days ago
Gephardt makes butter...
Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Can you save money by making your own butter?

Prices for groceries are up, but the price we pay for butter is way, way up – to the point it will impact your holiday baking budget.
8 days ago
(KSL TV)...
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Packed holiday flights: How SLC Int’l stacks up against US’s largest airports in delays and cancelations

Travelers, brace yourselves: holiday flights will be packed.
8 days ago
Jennifer Steele holding her daughters GPS watch. (KSL-TV)...
Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

Safety feature or distraction? Debate over kid-tracking watches in the classroom

A mom says it’s about safety. Her school says it’s a distraction. Where is the line when it comes to smartwatches in the classroom? KSL’s Matt Gephardt investigates.
13 days ago
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Received a package delivery text? Scammers are luring Utahns with fake tracking alerts

Utahns are getting targeted by scammers sending out fake delivery notices.
14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Gephardt: How Utah Reacted To The Spanish Flu