OMFG. Like That and It’s Over.

PCH is wall to wall and LA beaches are packed!

And that was 100 years ago.



[ed. excerpted from Los Angeles City Archive] It was mid-September 1918 when cases of influenza began appearing in the Los Angeles area. At first, the disease attacked seamen aboard a naval vessel that had arrived in the harbor. On September 28, officials at the Naval Reserve Station at Los Angeles Harbor was placed their installation under quarantine, although they were quick to state that the move was merely precautionary, as no cases yet existed. Several days later, Army officials placed the Arcadia Balloon School under protective quarantine, prohibiting the men there from visiting nearby Pasadena and other communities without special permission. There too, officials stated that there were no cases amongst soldiers.1

The first civilian cases in Los Angeles appeared on September 22…on October 11, Mayor Woodman declared a state of public emergency.6…The health commissioner then ordered schools closed and banned all public gatherings – including public funerals, movie houses, theaters, pool rooms, and other public entertainments. In other cities, tens of thousands gathered for the celebrations kicking off the Fourth Liberty Loan drive, creating conditions perfect for the spreading of influenza. In Los Angeles, however, residents had at least one less opportunity for getting sick.Hollywood Historian William Mann Compares 1918 Spanish Flu With ...

Clarifying questions ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: Are dental schools included in the ban? What about piano lessons? Should businesses stop holding sales, playing music or doing other things to attract crowds? Will the health department recommend wearing gauze masks? Should they be mandatory? Since poolrooms are closed, should a hotel shut down its single pool table?

No Masks. No Vaccines.

L.A. city leaders were not as easily convinced on the mask issue as their Northern California counterparts…the City Council simply decided to recommend masks except for situations where the state required their use.

The value of influenza vaccines was also debated energetically amongst those in the Los Angeles medical community. On October 25, the state Department of Public Health announced a statewide plan to provide inoculations to all Californians who wanted one. Periodically, the L.A. health department directed Angelinos to three sites in the city for free inoculations.18 The program was not very popular, however, and grew less so in late-November when one representative of the U.S. Surgeon General’s office told Los Angeles residents that he was not very enthusiastic about the efficacy of the vaccine.19

Sunday Morning! "Pale Rider: the Spanish Flu of 1918" by Laura ...As October waned, the daily tally of new influenza cases fell below 1,000.  By November 9. By then the daily tally of new cases fell below 800 for the first time in a month.22

In early-November, a group of Christian Science churches formulated plans to reopen despite the closure order. Church leaders questioned the constitutionality of shuttering churches. By mid-November, the number of new influenza cases dropped dramatically, but still hovered in the 500 per day range. On November 29, the number of new reported influenza cases fell below 350. Health Commissioner Powers and the Influenza Advisory Committee asked City Council members to pass an ordinance lifting the ban effective Monday, December 2. Alas the epidemic was not yet truly over. Alarmed by the upward trend in new cases, especially among children, Powers alerted the Board of Education and recommended that it consider closing schools.38 The Board agreed, and on December 10 ordered all public schools closed until further notice.

flattening the curve 1918…LA 3rd row 3rd from left

Mayor Woodman acted decisively to avoid conflict between the Los Angeles’s business interests and City Council. Within two days of the school closure announcement, the Mayor invited ten business and civic representatives to serve on a Business Advisory Committee.41 The business advisors launched a publicity campaign to educate citizens on how to avoid infection. This included “four-minute” speakers who spread into the community at various public gatherings to talk about precautions. The advisors also hired a public relations expert [to come up with] a campaign theme: public health regulations were expensive, but personal action and caution was free.44

School Closures

The October 11 closing order, which included schools, received full support from the Board of Education and Superintendent. [They] kept schools closed well into the New Year. [The School Bord] implemented a system of correspondence instruction for the 90,000 children in the Los Angeles public school system and arranged for its 3,400 teachers to continue receiving their pay by either doing volunteer work or furthering their own education.46 [They] developed a system to monitor infection rates within the school district. Using this data, Powers was able to determine which areas were ‘flu free,” allowing schools in those neighborhoods to reopen. As a result, the first five of the 230 public schools in Los Angeles reopened as early as January 9. As the epidemic subsided across the city, children once again returned to their classrooms. On February 6, the last of the remaining buildings reopened. Under the new model, thousands of children thus were able to return to their classrooms much sooner than otherwise would have occurred.47


Los Angeles used early and consistent measures to reduce exposure to influenza during an extended confrontation with the disease. These included school closures, a ban on public gatherings, enforcement of home quarantines starting December 2, and the cooperation of most of its citizens throughout the epidemic. This undoubtedly contributed to the city’s rather successful campaign against influenza.

There were problems, however. The debate over the efficacy of gauze masks revealed some of the cracks in the city’s otherwise unified façade. Theater owners protested against what they believed to be unfair treatment. This occurred in several other American cities as well. In Los Angeles, however, theater owners escalated the battle by bringing in producers and film studios. Then there was the legal challenge from Christian Science churches and their desire to bring a test case to the California Supreme Court or, if necessary, the federal courts. To be sure, the sailing was not entirely smooth in Los Angeles in the fall of 1918.

Ultimately, however, quick action, a strong working relationships that health commissioner Powers had forged over his many years of service, and good cooperation with city officials and business and civic organizations helped keep Los Angeles’s anti-epidemic campaign on track. In the end, Los Angeles experienced a lower epidemic death rate than many other American cities: 494 deaths per 100,000 people. By contrast, San Francisco – which acted slowly and which relied heavily on the purported protection of gauze face masks to stop the spread of influenza – had an excess death rate of 673 per 100,000.48 Powers, Mayor Woodman, and the City Council could be proud of their efforts.

Here is a good place to get your daily COVID19 updates without the TV hosts

And here is a very useful video that concludes Spanish Flu and COVID19 are NOT equivalent diseases. However, the social response is very similar. Bottom line? Widespread compliance is essential otherwise “we could be in for it.”


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