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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Frenzy of countermeasures as Spanish flu takes hold

The city was going into lockdown to head off new infections from the Spanish flu, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Oct. 11, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)
The city was going into lockdown to head off new infections from the Spanish flu, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Oct. 11, 1918. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Normal life came to a halt in Spokane while health authorities tried desperately to limit a spreading Spanish flu epidemic.

All bowling alleys and billiard parlors were shut down by order of the city health officer. All schools, churches, theaters and other public gathering places already had been closed down. Even social calls were discouraged in some cases.

“It is absolutely forbidden that people enter in or visit at homes where the occupants have even a bad cold, because before the case is diagnosed, it is hard to tell whether it is influenza or not,” said Dr. J.B. Anderson, the city health officer.

These measures did not appear to be slowing the contagion. Another 19 new cases of Spanish flu were reported in one morning, which brought the total to at least 256 cases.

Officials continued to insist that these cases were “of a very mild form,” despite the fact that at least two people had already died. Authorities were trying to institute strict prevention measures without causing mass panic. It was a difficult balancing act.

“If people will just use good common horse sense, there is no need to fear a panic or to have any grave concern,” said Anderson.

Meanwhile, the contagion was spreading throughout the Northwest. Seven people died in Seattle. Schools were ordered closed in Yakima and Portland. The flu was raging at the U.S. Army base at Camp Lewis (Fort Lewis). A group of 19 graduate nurses from Spokane were being rushed to Camp Lewis to deal with the outbreak.

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