SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — “It’s enlightening to me to read more about the history of our area here for this flu.”
Historians in the Bay Area have found some similarities and differences to what life was like here during the 1918 flu pandemic and today’s coronavirus.
KRON4’s Michelle Kingston examined some old local photographs and newspaper clippings.
Letters from 1918 showed how Mary Rhodes wrote to her husband who was away on business in Washington, D.C. telling him what life was like in Berkeley during the flu pandemic.
Newspapers wrote about who was sick, who had died and who was recovering — a bit different than what is being reported today.
“The community was smaller so they knew more of the people, but there were a lot less privacy issues,” Lisa Gorrell, Contra Costa County Historical Society, said. “All kinds of things were printed in the newspaper back in those days about everyone’s every day life that you don’t see today. Now today, we are seeing the number of people who have the cases but we don’t know who they are.”
1918 newspaper clippings show makeshift hospitals were created, and some people were arrested for not wearing masks in public in Berkeley.
Businesses were shut down.
“When cities like Oakland and San Francisco started doing these measures it really helped prevent some deaths,” Gorrell said. “So that’s similar to whats happening now too once we started thinking about having protections and keeping our distance from each other our numbers have gone down.”
Gorrell found an urgency ordinance from the town of Walnut Creek — in 1918 during the pandemic it was unlawful to go anywhere without a mask. They were to consist of no less than the thickness of four pieces of medical gauze.
She also found this public service announcement that circulated in Martinez that reads: “coughs and sneezes as dangerous as poison gas shells.”
“They didn’t believe that this was serious at the beginning,” Gorrell said. “Just like today where people didn’t believe it was serious it was just the flu no big deal — and it turned into being a big deal just like this turned into a big deal.”
Photos from a family in Berkeley in 1918 are similar to what we are seeing today with the coronavirus pandemic — people doing what they can to flatten the curve.
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