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During the Spanish Flu in 1918.
COURTESY WIKICOMMONS

BY JANE ELIASOF
for Montclair Local

In 1918-19, the Spanish Flu (an H1N1 virus) pandemic swept through the world, killing an estimated 5 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the US according to the CDC.

On Oct. 12, 1918, the Montclair Times published the State Health Department’s recommendations to contain the spread of the disease. The recommendations are remarkably similar to what we are living with today. Just sub in “coronavirus” for “influenza.” Our grandparents rose to the occasion. We can too.

The “curve” in this graph shows the number of people infected with the Spanish Flu in 1918-19.
COURTESY WIKICOMMONS

As printed on the front page of the Montclair Times, October 12, 1918:

The instructions issued by the State Department of Health to all local health departments in New Jersey regarding the influenza epidemic follow in full:

Influenza is now epidemic in all sections of this state. The causative agent of this disease is contained in the excretions of the throats and noses of persons who are suffering from or who are carriers of the infection. The congregation of people in crowds increases the liability of the exchange of these secretions.

In order to restrict the further spread of influenza, local boards of health are hereby instructed, under authority contained in Chapter 288 of the Laws of 1915:

One – To prevent, as far as practicable, all public gatherings during the duration of this epidemic of influenza; and for this purpose to order closed all churches, theatres, moving picture houses, dance halls, pool rooms, lodge rooms, saloons, soda fountains and other places where numbers of people congregate.

Second – To advise the Board of Education to close schools whenever, in the judgment of the local board of health, the prevalence of the disease in the locality makes this procedure advisable.

Three – To advise the public to avoid unnecessary travel in public conveyances and to refrain from social activities which will result in the gathering of numbers of people.

Four – To require that all cases of influenza and pneumonia should be isolated in bed during the acute stage of the disease and that all discharges from the throat and nose shall be disinfected.

Fifth – To prohibit public funerals of persons who have died of influenza and pneumonia.

Sixth – To prohibit the use of common towels and to enforce the law forbidding the use of common drinking cups.

Seventh – To require that all eating utensils which are used for more than  a single service in places where food and drink is offered for sale shall, after each use, be boiled, or cleansed in some other equally efficient manner.

The author is Executive Director of the Montclair History Center.

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