In an emergency, close all places where people congregate

logo Latest in a series of posts on the coronavirus/Spanish Flu logo

For perspective on our current coronavirus 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).

October 5, 1918.

Twenty-two days since the Morning Call announced the arrival of the Spanish Flu in America.

Now it starts to get really interesting.

The State Board of Health sent a detailed letter to all of the Boards of Health in the state.

Oct 5 1918 Health Instructions

The opening thrust of the letter was to rehearse all of the commonsense things you could (should) do on your own (such as covering your coughs, getting fresh air, and so forth) to combat the dreaded disease.

But the main operational thrust of the letter was to suggest all of the things that the state could do to you to combat the dreaded disease.

The main operational thrust of the letter was the invocation of the police power of the local government if necessary to control your behavior for the common good.

For instance, a decidedly get-tough policy on spitting through dramatic enforcement of the “anti-spitting act” was explicitly recommended.

Flu 39Flu 40

One is tempted to make a joke out of perp walks by spitters or spitters in stocks at Broad and Main until you remember the bus driver who just died from the coronavirus after making a video complaining of passengers who coughed on him.

Not so funny. And it would serve the knuckleheads right.

But here’s the key nugget in the Board of Health directive:

Flu 41

Who gets to decide when the disease is “unduly prevalent” or, in fact, whether the disease is a “disease” at all?

Sound familiar? Sound like something from the nightly news?

Let’s see the tension between Allentown and Bethlehem and, apparently, within Bethlehem, on these questions.

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