Covid-idiots, lockdown violators or those finding it difficult to put on their face masks in the contemporary coronavirus pandemic? The same ugly incidents happened during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
Wear a mask or go to jail: that is how people in San Francisco could explain it during the 1918 flu pandemic.
In September 1918, the global Spanish flu pandemic hit California, USA. The first cases identified among travellers: a man returning to San Francisco from a trip to Chicago and sailors aboard a ship that arrived in Los Angele’s harbour.
What happened in the fall and winter will seem familiar. City officials imposed a “stay at home” order and forced the closure of schools and “mass entertainment” venues. Court hearings and church services have moved to the street. Tents, hotels, and large halls served as makeshift hospitals.
As the death toll has risen, measures have become severe, including forced quarantines and mandatory mask-wearing. The masks recommended during the 1918 pandemic made of six-layer cotton gauze with extra strength. They were thick, and it was not a great pleasure to wear them.
In a discussion by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors about masks, Seattle and Portland were named cities that benefited from wearing masks. San Francisco passed a law that fined violators from $5 to $10 and risked going to jail for up to 10 days.
The city’s contamination flu rates decreased less than three weeks after the mask order went into effect. The government concluded that this was a success and that masks no longer needed. In December of that year, the mask order cancel. Residents widely celebrated the event and, according to several newspapers, people set up bonfires from masks.
But soon after the fires, the Spanish flu epidemic flared up again, and the number of cases increased again. In January 1919, San Francisco re-established its rules over masks, sparking an uprising that led to the formation of the Anti-Mask League.
More than 2,000 people assembled at the protest against the masks. The League has asked the city to repeal the mask law. The officials surrendered after a month.
According to various estimates, by the time the pandemic died down in 1920, from 17 million to 100 million people had died worldwide.