During World War 1, reporting of the Spanish Flu was largely suppressed in order to maintain morale among the troops. Spain was not involved in the war and had not imposed wartime censorship. As a result, the media was free to report on it, and coverage of the virus only increased when King Alfonso XIII came down with a nasty case. The Allies only read in-depth accounts from Spanish sources, so they naturally assumed the country was ground zero for the pandemic.
While it’s unlikely to have originated from Spain, scientists are still unsure of its source. Britain, France, Austria, China, and the United States have all been hypothesised to have been the potential birthplaces of the virus. The first known case was reported on 11 March 1918 by a soldier in Haskell County, Kansas, USA.
Certain American cities fared better than others, depending on how they responded. Philadelphia did not cancel the Liberty Loan Parade, which was attended by about 200,000 people, leading to a widespread outbreak in the city. 72 hours after the parade, all 31 of Philadelphia’s hospitals were completely full, and 2,600 people were dead by the end of the week.
St. Louis took the spread of the virus more seriously, and their health commissioner, Dr. Max Starkloff, knew the importance of avoiding crowds as he had written an editorial about it in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Starkloff moved quickly, shutting down schools, theaters, saloons, sporting events, and any large public gatherings. Starkloff received pushback from business owners, but he firmly held his ground alongside the mayor and was able to “flatten the curve” and prevent the hospitals from getting overwhelmed. St. Louis had the lowest death rate among the country’s 10 largest cities.
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Text: History Cool Kids.