When the clock struck midday, the masks came off.
It was Nov. 21, 1918, and San Francisco residents gathered in the streets to celebrate not only the recent end of World War I and the Allies’ victory, but likewise the end of a burdensome ordinance that closed down the city and needed all homeowners and visitors to use face coverings in public to stop the spread of the so-called Spanish flu.
A blaring whistle informed gratified residents throughout the city and, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time, “the sidewalks and runnels were scattered with the relics of an agonizing month,” despite cautions from the health department to keep face coverings. As events continued and homeowners flocked to theaters, dining establishments and other public areas soon thereafter, city officials would soon discover their issues were far from over.
Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, as President Donald Trump urges the resuming of the country and some states, such as Georgia, relocate to resume typical service even as new cases emerge, how officials acted during the 1918 influenza pandemic, particularly in cities such as San Francisco, offers a cautionary tale about the risks of doing so prematurely.
Alex Navarro, the assistant director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, which detailed historical accounts of the 1918-19 flu pandemic in 43 cities, informed NBC News in a phone interview that officials often acted quickly at the time however constraints were relieved to varying degrees.
” There was a lot of pressure in practically all of these American cities to reopen,” said Navarro, whose research was carried out in combination with the Centers for Illness Control and Prevention. “When they got rid of those constraints prematurely, then many cities saw a revival in cases.”
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The center’s research study found that cities that used “early, sustained and layered” practices such as social distancing, closing public occasions and stay-at-home orders “fared much better than those that did not.”
‘ A lot of stock in masks’
Just two months earlier, in September, the very first case of the so-called Spanish influenza was identified in San Francisco and city health officials sprung into action.
Dr. William C. Hassler, the city’s health officer, bought the local man who obviously brought the disease to the city after a journey to Chicago into quarantine to stop the disease from finding another human host, according to the center’s research study of reported accounts.
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But it was too late as the infection had actually currently started to make its method through the city. By mid-October, the cases leapt from 169 to 2,000 in just one week. Later that month, Mayor James Rolph put in location social distancing practices and met Hassler, other health officials, regional entrepreneur as well as officials from the federal government to talk about a strategy to close the city.
Some authorities demurred at the idea, stressed over damage to the city’s economy and the risk of triggering public panic. Eventually, on Oct. 18, the city voted to close down “all locations of public amusement.”
City officials likewise highly promoted for face coverings, which were at very first optional and quickly needed by a mayoral order– the country’s very first at the time, Navarro said.
” They were the one city that put a lot of stock in masks,” he stated.
With the pandemic still raving across the globe during World War I, the mask also became a symbol of “wartime patriotism.”
” The male or female or kid who will not wear a mask now is a harmful slacker,” a civil service announcement from the American Red Cross said at the time, according to Navarro’s research.
That, nevertheless, did not stop people from defying the order– 110 individuals were arrested and offered a $5 fine in one day in October shortly after the measure entered into location, poorly using a mask or not using one completely, according to the center’s research study. Gradually, the prisons were overcrowded with individuals failing to adhere to the guidelines. However, most cases were later dismissed.
By the end of October, there were 20,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths. As the days went on, the city saw a dip in recently reported cases, which triggered authorities to start to resume the city and rescind the mask order. By the end of November, officials thought the city had actually supported.
‘ They were flattening that curve’
But three weeks after that celebration of removing their masks, the city saw a remarkable renewal. Officials in the beginning declined the concept of reopening the city and suggested residents might voluntarily use face coverings.
However quickly after the New Year in 1919, the city was hit with 600 brand-new cases in one day, prompting the Board of Supervisors to re-enact the compulsory mask ordinance. Demonstrations versus the mandate ultimately caused the formation of the Anti-Mask League. The critics eventually got their method when the order was lifted in February.
San Francisco’s uncertainty to quarantine procedures ran counter to other U.S. cities. Navarro said Los Angeles, for example, executed stringent social distancing and face coverings about a week before San Francisco did and its procedures remained in location for weeks longer.
Navarro said that numerous cities typically became complacent once they saw a dip in cases, and when a resurgence takes place locals often question the public health assistance.
” They were flattening that curve; they just weren’t realizing it,” Navarro stated. “A lot of people believed, ‘Well, what did we go through that for? It did have an effect, they simply didn’t know it.”
As Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading contagious disease specialist, put it in March, “If it looks like you’re overreacting, you’re most likely doing the ideal thing.”
Back during the Spanish flu, San Fransisco’s failure to take speedy action and the decision to relieve limitations after only a few weeks had huge implications. With 45,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths, the city was reported to have been one of, if not, the hardest-hit big city.
Roughly a century later on, the San Francisco Bay Location imposed the nation’s first stay-at-home order and other limitations when coronavirus cases were rapidly growing, positioning a spotlight on its pandemic response again. Those aggressive actions are credited with saving lives, avoiding the scale of the tragedy found in New York City.
Mayor London Type said she took heed of history and implemented an order recently needing anyone setting foot on the streets of San Francisco, outside their houses, to wear a face covering.
Starting today, individuals in San Francisco are needed to wear face coverings at necessary businesses, in public facilities, on transit, and while performing necessary work.
This is not a replacement for staying at home and physical distancing, but it is a crucial step for safety.
— London Type (@LondonBreed) April 17, 2020
Type informed MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in a look in mid-April that she has thought about the city’s history with past pandemics, such as the HIV/AIDS crisis and the Spanish flu when deciding to ease restrictions.
” Just because San Francisco is being applauded for flattening the curve, we’re not there yet,” she stated. “And so we can not let up just because for some reason we believe that we remain in a better place.”
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