June 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

1918: ‘We Ditched the Mask and Celebrated’

(Courtesy of SMGH) ‘More than 200,000 dead since March. Cities in lockdown. Vaccine trials underway.’

‘See that Thanksgiving celebrations are restricted as much as possible so as to prevent another flare-up.’

We were all tired of seeing those messages every day. And a mask-burning celebration on Thanksgiving in the open in our community sounded like a plan!

Well, we were not alone, and such a celebration actually happened— Thanksgiving of 1918, 102 years ago when Americans found themselves in a similar predicament as the millions now grappling with how to celebrate the holiday season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those headlines were what Americans were living under various phases of quarantines and face-mask orders, just like today! Health officials throughout the country issued the same holiday warning: Stay home and stay safe. Americans were at the tail end of WWI—and they battled the H1N1 influenza epidemic1, also known as the Spanish flu.

The first cases were detected in the U.S. in March of 1918, growing exponentially by the fall. The mask orders, curfews and lockdowns were the order of the day! Then came Armistice Day, the end of WWI and dancing in the streets in celebration! Which led to higher case counts by the end of November, right in time for Thanksgiving that year.

The nation was used to restrictions as imposed in WWI, but by Thanksgiving they had had enough, and states lifted their restrictions—partly due to opposition campaigns by retailers, theater owners, unions and other economically stressed stakeholders.

San Francisco had one of the nation’s largest anti-masking campaigns, spearheaded by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco2. Many people refused to wear masks and were arrested, and the court system couldn’t handle the number of arrests, so they laid off the police! Then on Thanksgiving, San Franciscans ceremoniously removed their masks as a whistle sounded across the city at noon.

By January, the U.S. was fully engulfed in its third wave of influenza, killing approximately 675,000 Americans before subsiding in the summer of 19193.

If history tells us anything, it’s that the risk of contracting the virus or spreading the virus by congregating in groups or even traditional holiday parties right now is too great!

For this four-day Thanksgiving weekend, New Jersey received another 16,440 positive COVID-19 test results, and 95 more New Jersey residents died as a result of complications from the virus, according to state data. A total of 334,114 COVID-19 positive test results have been received by the state since the pandemic began, and 15,149 residents of the state have died due to COVID-19 complications. COVID-19 was ruled to be the probable cause of another 1,829 deaths.

And with the end-of-year holidays and parties coming up, if we are not careful, we will have another large spike like they did in 1918-1919.

“For the physicians, nurses and employees of New Jersey hospitals, COVID-19 doesn’t take a holiday,” said Ed Condit, president and CEO of St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic. “Our teammates serve on the pandemic’s frontlines each day, through Diwali, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s. And they too have parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren with whom they long to celebrate.

“The very best way you can support frontline heroes, and the communities they protect, is to follow the personal precautions that can stop the spread of COVID-19. Keep your holiday events small – fewer than 10 people. Gather outdoors if possible. Social distance. Wear face masks. Wash your hands frequently. And by all means, stay home if you are sick.”

Good health is one of life’s greatest blessings. Let’s show our gratitude to and for one another this holiday season by doing what we can to help protect each other’s health and to put an end to this COVID-19 pandemic!

St. Mary’s General Hospital—nationally recognized, locally preferred among the top hospitals in America for health, quality and patient safety! The hospital has over 550 physicians and 1,200 employees, with every staff member committed to providing respectful, personalized, high-quality care—to satisfy patients’ needs and exceed their expectations. St. Mary’s General is a proud member of Prime Healthcare, which has more Patient Safety Excellence Awards for five consecutive years (2016-2020) than any other health system in the country including a “Top 15 Healthcare System” by Truven Health Analytics. To learn more about St. Mary’s General Hospital visit https://www.smh-nj.com/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StMarysGeneral.

For more information, please contact George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison, at [email protected].

1 https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/2020/05/22/second-wave-coronavirus-spanish-flu-1918-philadelphia-st-louis-influenza-deaths-covid-19/3085405001/  

2 According to Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan and co-editor-in chief of The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919 https://www.influenzaarchive.org/

3 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/pandemic-timeline-1918.htm

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