As the influenza pandemic swept across the United States in 1918 and 1919, masks took a role in political and cultural wars.
The masks were called muzzles, germ shields and dirt traps. They gave people a “pig-like snout.” Some people snipped holes in their masks to smoke cigars. Others fastened them to dogs in mockery. Bandits used them to rob banks.
More than a century ago, as the 1918 influenza pandemic raged in the United States, masks of gauze and cheesecloth became the facial front lines in the battle against the virus. …the masks stoked political division…medical authorities urged the wearing of masks to help slow the spread of disease…some people resisted.
In 1918 and 1919, as bars, saloons, restaurants, theaters and schools were closed, masks became a scapegoat, a symbol of government overreach, inspiring protests, petitions and defiant bare-face gatherings. All the while, thousands of Americans were dying in a deadly pandemic.
The first infections were identified in March, at an Army base in Kansas, where 100 soldiers were infected. Within a week, the number of flu cases grew fivefold, and soon the disease was taking hold across the country, prompting some cities to impose quarantines and mask orders to contain it.
By the fall of 1918, seven cities San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, Denver, Indianapolis and Pasadena, Calif. had mandatory face mask laws…
At the forefront of the safety measures was San Francisco…By the end of October, there were more than 60,000 cases statewide, with 7,000 of them in San Francisco. It soon became known as the “masked city.”
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