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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Spanish flu fears spread, and facade of confidence begins to crack

The optimistic front put up by the city over the Spanish influenza had been wavering for days. Finally, it broke. (Spokesman-Review archives)
The optimistic front put up by the city over the Spanish influenza had been wavering for days. Finally, it broke. (Spokesman-Review archives)

This was the day when city health authorities – and the Spokane Daily Chronicle – finally quit trying to sound optimistic about the Spanish flu epidemic.

“Wholesome Fear Of Influenza Is Needed By City,” said the Chronicle headline.

“There is a difference between wholesome fear of influenza and morbid dread of the disease,” said city health officer Dr. J.B. Anderson. “Spokane people, for their own good, must realize the difference.”

He said that the disease is still “on the upgrade in Spokane” and that there was no telling when relief would come.

This new pragmatism was sparked by a spike in flu cases, now numbering 2,500. The number of deaths was also increasing, although the Chronicle did not report the exact number. It did report the death of a Deaconess Hospital nurse, Jean Keys Russell, 28, on the front page.

The paper quoted Dr. Anderson as saying, “The death rate in Spokane has been low, is increasing, and even worse may possibly be expected.”

“Spokane must be warned that the death rate of an epidemic is not high at its start, but increases at a growing ratio as the epidemic spreads and continues,” said Dr. Anderson.

This accurately described the trajectory that the disease was destined to take in Spokane.

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