Lessons from 1918 Spanish flu: When mask laws triggered protests in US – The Indian Express

Composed by
Adrija Roychowdhury|New Delhi |

Updated: August 9, 2020 6:25:06 pm

To mask or not to mask- Resistance and enforcement.

On October 18, the citys health officer, Dr. William C. Hassler ordered all barbers to wear masks when in contact with their customers, and asked clerks who came in contact with the basic public to wear them. Citizens too were mandated to use masks in public. The mask ordinance of October 22, made San Francisco the very first city mandating the usage of face masks which had 4 layers. A century later, when San Francisco mayor, London Breed ordered the citys citizens to “use face coverings in vital organizations, in public facilities, on transit and while carrying out necessary work,” a heated dispute took place once again on the effectiveness and feasibility of masks.

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The influenza was first reported in March 1918, at an army base in Kansas where near 100 soldiers had actually been contaminated. Within a week, the variety of cases grew five times. As countless soldiers released for the war crossed the Atlantic, the influenza spread with them. Local authorities rolled out a big number of steps to manage its spread consisting of closing down of schools, banning public gatherings, no spitting, and the like. The one procedure that developed into a point of debate, was the necessary using of masks. As today, an intense argument had occurred over the utility and convenience of using masks. Citizens neglected the ordinance, revealed defiance, and some likewise organised demonstrations that like today, were politically inspired.

Mandating the mask– A patriotic act.

The practice of covering nose and mouth as a hygienic practise is traced back to early modern-day Europe. Throughout the spread of the Bubonic pester, physicians wore a beak-shaped mask filled with perfume. The reason behind wearing this mask was the belief that infectious diseases spread out through harmful toxins in the air or miasma. Perfume-filled masks were thought to be efficient in securing those using it. This practise however, started to die out by the 18th century.

Mask wearing rules first turned up in the Western states. By the end of fall of 1918, 7 cities of the USA had created obligatory mask laws including San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, Denver, Indianapolis and Pasadena, California. It was San Francisco, nevertheless, that was at the leading edge of the mask laws.

Dolan recommended that the anti mask league was more politically encouraged than clinically. The president of the league, E.C. Harrington, together with other crucial members, had political motivations behind requiring the resignation of Rolph.

A Spanish Flu victim in St Louis, USA. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

To mask or not to mask: A note on the 1918 Spanish epidemic influenza epidemic in Tucson by Bradford Luckingham.

” Destroyer and Teacher”: Managing the Masses During the 1918– 1919 Influenza Pandemic by Nancy Tomes.

The first thing the group did was to call for a public conference with the objective of distributing petitions requesting the dismissal of city health officer, William Hassler and threatening Mayor Rolph with recall if he did not adhere to the needs of citizens.

Using face masks, as is done today, can be traced back to the 1880s when a group of cosmetic surgeons designed a technique to stop bacteria from entering wounds. Johann Mikulicz, head of the surgical treatment department at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland), began wearing a face mask which he described as “a piece of gauze tied by 2 strings to the cap, and sweeping across the face so as to cover the nose and mouth and beard.” “The face mask represented a technique of infection control that concentrated on keeping all bacteria away, rather than killing them with chemicals,” wrote biologist Bruno J Strasser and historian Thomas Schlich in their research study paper, A history of the medical mask and the increase of throwaway culture.

There were also those who declared that the masks were detrimental to their security. Ewing provided an anecdote of a mechanic at Tucson, Arizona, who confessed to not using a mask, claiming “it was not safe to do so, as it would have hindered his vision and rendered himself responsible to injury from the machine.” At Santa Barbara, California, a doctor, Dr. J. Clifford responded to his arrest by specifying that he did not believe in using the mask because it did refrain from doing anything to manage the spread of the epidemic.

Composing in the BBC publication website, History Extra, teacher E Thomas Ewing explained that the majority of offenses of mask ordinances arised from” indifference, lack of knowledge, or convenience.” “In San Francisco, the majority of the 110 apprehended on the first day had masks around their necks, which suggests their refusal was more about convenience than principled opposition to the guidelines,” he wrote.

“The face mask stood for a method of infection control that focused on keeping all germs away, as opposed to killing them with chemicals,” composed biologist Bruno J Strasser and historian Thomas Schlich in their research paper, A history of the medical mask and the rise of throwaway culture.

In 1918, when Americans were busy helping the Allied powers in the First World War that was raging throughout Europe, they were besieged in the house by a fatal influenza epidemic. The Spanish influenza is taped to have actually eliminated 10 times more Americans than were eliminated by German bombs and bullets in the war.

Because America at that time was still fighting the war, regional authorities framed procedures to control the spread of the illness with a touch of patriotism. Mayor James Rolph of San Francisco on the other hand revealed that “patriotism, self-protection and conscience demand stiff and instant compliance” with the mask order.

On October 18, the citys health officer, Dr. William C. Hassler bought all barbers to use masks when in contact with their clients, and asked clerks who came in contact with the general public to wear them. The mask ordinance of October 22, made San Francisco the very first city mandating the usage of face masks which had four layers.

Letter provider in New York city wearing a mask throughout the influenza. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

In November 1918, residents of San Francisco were enabled to remove their masks as their health department announced the epidemic was over. The city celebrated with utmost happiness. “Others, waiters and barkeeps bared their faces.

An engraving of a pester physician of Marseilles made in 1721 CE (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Barbers using masks during the epidemic (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

As in 2020, the regulation to wear masks in 1918 too saw firm resistance from several Americans. Lawbreakers of mask laws were fined $5 or $10, or were put under 10 days of jail time.

Till the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, the use of face masks was restricted to the confines of the operating space. The Spanish flu introduced a brand-new period in the history of face masks, when for the very first time, physicians, clients in addition to locals in America were asked to use the mask outside their houses.

Obligatory masks for all– A very first time law during the Spanish flu.

The celebrations were short lived though, considering that within weeks the variety of influenza cases spiked again, and in December 1918, the mask regulation was reinstated. Reacting to this imposition, a self-styled anti-mask league was produced. “The same people who celebrated their bare-faced “liberation” when permitted to eliminate face masks in November 1918, now organized demonstrations versus the return of this public health step,” composed medical historian, Brain Dolan, in his short article, Unmasking History: Who Was Behind the Anti-Mask League Protests During the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in San Francisco?.

Unmasking History: Who Was Behind the Anti-Mask League Protests During the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in San Francisco? by Brian Dolan.

The Spanish flu got here in America at a time when mass transport, mass consumption and warfare had actually opened up public areas, where infectious illness might spread. Among the most disastrous and extensive upsurges of the 20th century, the flu had likewise arrived at a time when medicine had actually advanced by leaps and bounds. Historian Nancy Tomes, in her post, ” Destroyer and Teacher”: Managing the Masses During the 1918– 1919 Influenza Pandemic, discussed how the influenza epidemic of 1918 was “easy to understand, but challenging to control.”.

A century later on, when San Francisco mayor, London Breed bought the citys residents to “wear face coverings in necessary services, in public facilities, on transit and while performing essential work,” a heated debate took place once again on the efficacy and expediency of masks. Unsurprisingly, the citys eventful history with mask laws is being studied for lessons. Dolan explained the lessons from the comparison– “As with this historic example, we see that imposing complete compliance of a measure which drastically modifies social habits over night is near difficult. The efforts to encourage the bulk to comply today appear to yield much better outcomes than in the past in controlling the spread of illness. That is where we might take comfort in not looking like the past.”.