The 1918 “flu” pandemic in Richardson County Just keep your flu at home Don’t peddle it around

By Nikki McKim

This article is the sixth in an eight part series about the 1918 “flu” epidemic that killed millions worldwide. 

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

Quarantine state law

It was reported on December 17, 1918, by the Falls City News that local men from Richardson County 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 reported ‘a fine meeting,’ with every county in the state being represented. It was decided that no general ban would be put on in the state,  but that a most drastic quarantine would be carried out. The resolution adopted at the session was enacted into law 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 their premises, they will also be prosecuted. This is now state law and it will be enforced in both towns 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 printed a letter submitted 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. 

We wish to say that they are entirely without any foundation whatsoever. 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, 1918, 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 regula-tions of the board of health. All that we have ever asked from 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 this 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 un-welcome 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 hu-man 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 sci-ence 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 along with the new year.

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