The 1918 “flu” pandemic in R.C., Strict quarantine and masks show results as the year ends

By Nikki McKim

This article is the fifth in a series about the 1918 “flu” epidemic that killed millions worldwide. 

Christmas was approaching and a resurgence had been seen. Officials from each county meet in Lincoln to discuss how to proceed, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel as 1918 comes to a close. 

Near the beginning of December 1918, the Richardson County Health Board and businessmen representatives met to decide how to proceed with closings during the epidemic. The Falls City News, December 3, 1918, reported on the meeting. 

It was decided that the conditions do not warrant the removal of the restrictions relative to schools and other public gatherings. It was thought better to make sure that the epidemic is under control rather than to be forced to close again as most neighboring cities have done. The present policy or rigid restrictions on all families having disease, and the daily visits to see that proper care is being given were heartily endorsed by all. This policy will be continued. The fact that influenza runs its course through the entire family once it has started emphasizes the fact that there is great need for an isolation hospital where proper precautions can be taken and adequate care given. Steps will be taken immediately to fit up such a hospital.

Some good this Christmas

Days later, on December 5, 1918, the Falls City Journal encouraged their readers to remember those in need this Christmas. 

This is a popular movement in many cities to remember the poor at Christmas. Why not start this in Falls City this year when the effects of the war and the epidemic leave many families among us in hard circumstances. Charity begins at home. Many children in various families are in need of warm winter wear, which is essential protection against the flu.

Stella Press asks the town to cooperate with health authorities

In Stella, school didn’t open. The Stella Press reported on December 6, 1918, that the board approved the school to be closed until Monday, December 30 as a means of preventing the spread of influenza. 

Rev. G. F. Fink, pastor Falls City Baptist church, was appointed county Health Commissioner by the commissioners to actively check the spread of influenza. Rev. Fink was in Stella Tuesday, and in company with A. E. Camblin, the Marshal, made the rounds of the town and called at the press office. Rev. Fink requested The Press to ask people of Stella and vicinity to cooperate with the health authorities in stamping out influenza. He is endeavoring to institute a strict quarantine and wants this impressed upon the people living in the country as well as those in town. Rev. Fink says the county and state authorities have the right to establish quarantine and he says where the town doesn’t establish quarantine and health rules, then the county or state will do it for the town. Rev. Fink requested The Press to announce that not more than five people father in a place at one time, that there be no loafing in the stores, barbershops and the pool hall, that the churches and their societies do not hold meetings until the danger is over. 

There be no fear of visiting Falls City

The Falls City News reported on December 10, 1918, that influenza was being reported in every town around Falls City, but Humboldt “with her rigid quarantine regulation has more cases than Falls City, which has four times her population.” 

A ban had again been placed in Hiawatha, Kansas. All the towns around have their share, but even then, in many cases, the reports are exaggerated as they are in Falls City. The epidemic is on the decline here and the number of fatalities is exceedingly small considering the size of the town. Falls City, having one-fourth of the population of the entire county. The conditions are no more dangerous in the town than in the country where farmers tell us the members of their family have been off their farm or visited by friends in weeks, yet entire families under these conditions have gone through a siege of influenza. The merchants keep their stores fumigated to safeguard the public and to say that it is unsafe to come to town is untrue. There is no more danger than remaining in the country where the percentage of the cases has always been larger than in town. The city authorities, the board of health and the Red Cross, are doing great work in combating the epidemic and Falls City is just as safe a place so far as the business public is concerned as ever in her history. There need be no fear of visiting Falls City. 

Hungry for Entertainment

On December 10, 1918, the Falls City Journal talked about the lack of entertainment in the area due to influenza. 

People are getting mighty hungry for entertainment. If anyone had told the picture show fans they could have lived for seven weeks without seeing pictures in that time; they would have keeled over with heart failure.

No one likes to run the risk of getting in contagion and when they are compelled to stay at home, they can do it. We will venture to say that Manger Mullen will have a stampede at his picture house as the entrance will not be large enough to let those in who are hungry to see pictures when the ban is finally raised. 

Journal against the ban 

The Falls City Journal reports they have been against the ban to fight the flu from the beginning in a December 11, 1918 story. 

The Journal has been against the ban as a method of fighting the flu from the start. For a ban is a mere confession of ignorance and the surrender to hysteria and blind fear and the avoidance of responsibility of seeking a practical way to limit the trouble to the households afflicted as is done in other contagious or infectious diseases. Kansas City has tried many plans, among them the ban-but it had to admit it was making a losing fight and at last, threw up its hands and called on the United States Public Health Service to furnish a man to take charge of the campaign against the flu. 

Doctor Wilkes of the Marine Hospital of St. Louis was put in charge. His investigation revealed at once that the quarantine attempted was not effective and that the physicians were lax in reporting cases. He is reported to have said to the board of health of that City, among other things, that The individual cooperation of the citizenry is the most essential thing. A general ban is unnecessary, nor is it necessary to hamper the City’s business life while conducting a health campaign. Most effective health campaigns have been conducted in other cities without any sort of ban. That is the first thing called for by excitable persons, but experience has proved it is a failure. 

The home quarantine is a successful means of combating the disease. Additional inspectors must be added to the force and great attention given to strictly enforcing the individual’s quarantine. 

Mask everyone

The same day in the same paper, the Falls City Journal ran an article titled mask everyone. 

Mask Everyone. In Chicago, Dr. Woods Hutchison, who brought about the wearing of masks in San Francisco is so confident that method of procedure is 100 percent in breaking influenza epidemics, he offered tonight to go to Kansas City and give his service if the City would prove an ordinance required every person to wear a gauze mask. 

Dr. Wilkes says ban not necessary

Doctor Wilkes of the Marine Hospital in Saint Louis reported that individual cooperation of the citizens is the most essential thing to fight the ‘flu.’ In a Falls City News article on December 13, 1918, Wilkes was been sent by the government to Kansas City to clear up influenza told the mayor and public health commissioner in Kansas City. “A general ban is not necessary by any means,” he continued, “no, is it necessary to hamper the business life of the city while conducting a health campaign.” “Most effect health campaigns have been conducted in other cities without any sort of ban. That is the first thing called for by excitable persons, but experience has proved it is a failure.” “The home quarantine is the successful means of combating the disease. Additional inspectors must be added to the force and great attention given to enforcing strictly the quarantine of the individual.” It seems that the conditions that apply to a city of 450,000 could be applied to a burg the size of Falls City. And there are plenty of individuals, the ministers and others who have volunteered their service and they would gladly enforce house quarantine. Why not lift the ban in Falls city that is affecting all kinds of business disastrously and put the responsibility squarely upon the people affected. They have no right to endanger other people nor to harass business, as has been the case for weeks in Falls City. The state laws may not be able to reach the situation, but city ordinances and the public health officers of state and City can. The general ban has not had a very big effect so far, now by not make it personal and individual. Where members of a family affected with influenza must go to work, see to it that they live away from the home until the health board says it is safe to return. This is not unreasonable in the face of the fact that business has been almost at a standstill in Falls City for two months past. If the general ban has not brought the desired results then for the good of the City take a more rigid course for a short time and if the citizenry as a whole will not conform generally and willingly, then for the public good enforce house and family quarantine to protect to general public. Dr. Wilkes’s quote above was put in charge of cleaning up influenza in Washington D. C when it was at its worst. Surely the opinion of men who have fought the epidemic in larger places and the benefit of experience is worth hearing. 

School will open Monday

On December 14, 1918, the Falls City Journal reported that school was set to open. 

In announcing the reopening of school for Monday, December 16, the local board of education do so with an abiding conviction that the present good conditions of health prevailing in the City can be maintained. The Health Board has been very careful and has placed the town in first-class condition. It is not our intention to disparage in any way the seriousness of the disease but to take such precautions and cooperate with the Health Board in such a manner that improvement will be the order rather than the reverse. 

A rigid system of inspection and precaution is being worked out and will be submitted to the Health Board for suggestions or approval. The buildings have been scrubbed and disinfected. The heating and ventilation in the three large buildings are automatic and could not be altered. Extra care will be taken in this respect is the small buildings. For the first week, a sufficient number of physicians will be employed to inspect every child every day or oftener if deemed advisable. Any child showing the least sign of fever or grippe will immediately be excluded and only turned through the school physician’s hands after sufficient time has elapsed to diagnose the trouble. If there is a sickness in the family, the children will, of course, be excluded until such time as the doctor shall deem advisable. These are only a few tentative suggestions and will be enlarged and amplified in consultation with the school physician and the Board of Health. It will be the policy to make the schoolroom as safe as the best home in the City. Nothing will be neglected. May we have the cooperation of the parents and the general public? Will you do your part? Board of Education B.H. Groves, Supt. 

Flu very fatal

December 16, 1918, it was reported that the flu could act differently in all communities. In some local towns, it was mild, while others saw an extremely fatal form of the ‘flu.’ 

This seems a strange statement, yet the report’s language by the board of health of Humboldt would indicate as much. The following is a quotation from the report published in the Humboldt Leader, “Only one death has resulted and this was caused by Brights disease and the patent contracting the flu later. There are not many towns in the state that show better conditions than exist here.” Truly no town in the state will step forward to take that honor away from Humboldt. Possibly the board of health of Humboldt holds to the theory that a lot of men are really dead a long time before they submit the burial and on that basis, the Journal can see how they could contact the flu later; otherwise, the announcement would be confusing. 

Quarantine state law

It was reported on December 17, 1918, by the Falls City News that local men had returned from a meeting in Lincoln where a state quarantine ban was discussed. 

Rev. Fink, Dr. Hays and Dr. Hustead returned from the Lincoln meeting called by the State Board of Health and report a fine meeting, every county in the state being represented. It was decided that no general ban would be put on in the state but that most drastic quarantine would be carried out. The resolution adopted at the session were enacted into law on Wednesday with a severe penalty. Doctors will be prosecuted for failure to report by telephone immediately or quickened conveniently for every new case. Should any member of a quarantined family leave the premises, they will also be prosecuted. This is now state law and it will be enforced in both downs and rural districts to the limit. While we haven’t heard so much of the flu in this county, it was shown by statistics that Richardson County is the only county in the state that is approaching normal conditions, that it is the best-organized county for fighting the epidemic and that the percentage of deaths have been far smaller than in other counties. Instead of one commissioner of health, there will be five in the county to enforce the state regulations. This is no small affair when state and nation join in stamping out the disease and it is the moral duty of every citizen to cooperate to end that the epidemic may be stamped out speedily. 

“Flu Epidemic” Let the Truth be Known

The Falls City News prints a letter submitted that day by H.C. Doran, Mayor and City Board of Health discussing Falls City papers printing misleading statements regarding the ‘flu’ situation at Humboldt on December 19, 1918, Falls City News. 

We wish to say that they are entirely without any foundation whatever. They are mere rumors and common gossip, perpetrated for the purpose of disorganizing the business interest at Humboldt. The facts of the matter are that conditions at Humboldt, are among the best in any town in Richardson County. On account of the strict quarantine, the disease has been practically stamped out here, only six cases remaining at present. Only one death has resulted and this was caused by Bright’s disease and the patient contracting the flu later. There are not many towns in the state that can show better conditions that exist here. These facts are true and can be verified at the office of the County Physician, Dr. C.L. Hustead. People should not pay any attention to rumors and heresy, but should only give credence to articles signed either by the City Board of Health, of the county physician.

Furthermore, the county physician should publish the number of cases in the different towns and rural districts of the county, in all county papers each week. These reports would be authentic and would discredit all false rumors. Dated this, the 10th day of December 1918 at Humboldt, NE. Signed, H.C. Doran, Mayor; C.E. Novak, Doctor of Medicine; E.S. Cope, Albert Young, City Board of Health.

Influenza a quarantinable disease

On December 21, 1918, the Falls City Journal published a notice to its readers. 

Influenza in the state of Nebraska has reached a state that must be met with the strictest measure known to health officers. From this date, influenza is a quarantinable disease.

All persons where quarantine is established must remain in; all exposed persons must remain with the sick until the quarantine is over. 

Public funerals discontinued

It was reported in the Falls City Journal on December 23, 1919, on the terms of public funerals, quarantine and worry about out of state visitors. 

First public funerals will be discontinued in all flu cases and exposed persons will only be permitted at the grave, providing they remain in their automobiles. Second-Quarantine five days after fever is normal. Third-The real problem confronting Falls City is the constant flow of people from Kansas who are scattering the disease. In Kansas, influenzas is not quarantinable. Fourth-There will be an organized corps of nurses trained along practical lines to act under the instructions of the county board of health and to be sent to places in the opinion of the board of health they are most needed. Promiscuous nursing will not be permitted.

By Order of Board of Health, GF Fink, HC; Dr. CL Hustead, CP

School Board controversy

At the end of the month, the Board of Health reported to the Falls City News of controversy and wanted the facts addressed. 

The board of health of this City having had some controversy with the school board and their physician wish to make a statement of facts to the public: The board of health finds that the school failed to report influenza cases properly and that he refused to meet with the board of health on several different occasions when requested to do so.

We also find that he employed an office girl from a quarantined home of which he was the attending physician and that she was in his office from day to day until the board of health ordered her home. We also find that he allowed 30 to 40 children to congregate from 8:30 to 10 am in his office for examination and he did not appear until 9:45 am. For these reasons, the board of health asks the school board to have the city physician make the school examination, which the school board refused-they also refused to admit children to the schools who had health certificates from the city physician. We took this matter up with the attorney general of this state and he informs us that the board of health is right and that we have full charge of all infectious and contagious diseases in this City and that the certificate of the city physician is final and he recommends that we commence action in court to enforce the rules and regulations of the board of health. All that we have ever asked form the school board or from their physician is service and since we have had this controversy, we would not ask better service than he has been giving the schools, and if this service continues, the board of health will not enter further complaint. We wish to say further that this board has not tried to injure any physician or citizen but have been working for the best interests of all the City. Some people have said this was a doctor’s fight and a few that it was a coal fight, all of which is too small for more than a mention. What we are working for is the cooperation of all the people to down his disease as quickly as possible and service is the only thing that will do the work. We have no friends to reward, no enemies to punish. However, we have made some enemies in our work, yet we have no apologizes to offer. 

CL Hustead, WS Leyda, JND Moisman, Jr, Sam Marts, Falls City Board of Health

Are they, criminals

As 1918 came to a close, the Falls City Journal asked if those who acted careless should be considered criminals. The Journal published this three-sentence article. People who run around from one flu nest to another are unwelcome visitors at The Journal office. Just keep your flu at home. Don’t peddle it around.

In mid-December, 1918, 2,807 deaths were reported in Nebraska. A total released in February 1919, estimated by The Nebraska State Medical Journal, was to be between 25,000-30,000 deaths throughout the state, which is now known to be an extreme understatement.

 “The year 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked the end, at least for a time, of man’s destruction of man.; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal disease causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all – infectious diseases. In this battle, there must be no armistice; no peace without victory. Here’s wishing every member of The Journal family continuous courage in the glorious struggle, with victory succeeding victory, and to all a Happy and Prosperous New Year,” The Journal of the American Medical Association

Next time, we’ll look at how 1919 brought hope and flattening of the curve in Southeast Nebraska.

Social Media