Local officials enter the fray against the Flu

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For perspective on our current coroniavirus situation, we are following the entrance of the 1918 Spanish Influenza, that paragon of pandemics, into the minds and bodies of Lehigh Valley residents who got their news through the Morning Call (the files of the Bethlehem Globe are closed to us at the moment).

Two or three days ago Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, and the face and fount of faithful factual information on our current pandemic crisis, reminded us that “The virus itself determines [the] timetable.”

Gadfly is reminded of that stark fact looking at the front page of the Morning Call September 28, 1918.

Running the full width of the page in just about the largest bold print possible we find:

Flu 22

Not the best time for the Flu to hit.

The Spanish Flu made its move with utter disregard to the fact that we were four years in to a world war and that day — on which we were literally drafting 2,600,000 men between the ages of 19 and 37 — our President was outlining his historic plan for a League of Nations in a major speech.

Our current president doesn’t have anything anywhere so heavy to divert his attention from our current health crisis.

But, on September 28, 1918, President Wilson had other fish to fry than this incipient national crisis from Spanish Flu.

And so response was left to local officials.

And so Lehigh Valley officials, convened by Bethlehem’s first Mayor Archibald Johnson, met in Bethlehem to work together to make the Spanish Flu “reportable,” which enabled the municipalities to take legal action against it.

And Bethlehem increased its hospital space, no doubt at the Washington School we talked about earlier. (Gadfly was hoping someone would know where Washington school was located.)

Flu 19

Flu 20

Flu 21

One result of the meeting, as the Morning Call reported two days later, was that Allentown gained “the distinction of being the first city in Pennsylvania” to be able to “placard and quarantine” cases if necessary to do so.

Bethlehem, only 9 months a city at this point, did not yet have a health bureau.

But within two weeks of the arrival of the Flu, local authorities were mobilizing to fight it.

2 thoughts on “Local officials enter the fray against the Flu

  1. As we watch all this play out, it’s sad and painful to see the extent to which our ‘leaders’ ignore basic concepts of epidemiology and known ways to contain epidemics.

    It’s further complicated by a neoliberal environment where profitability & cost-reduction triumph over prevention and sound science. So we have maybe 50,000 intensive care beds for 330-million people, compared to Germany’s 28,000 for 83-million people. (And Germany has, so far anyway, had the lowest death rate from the coronavirus.)

  2. Washington Jr. High School in the Northampton Heights section of South Bethlehem. Some thought it was the worst school, with no data to support that contention. There were a number of names who achieved prominence.

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