Spokane and the Nation: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919

Headline: “Crowds Rush to Buy Flu Masks”

Source: Spokesman-Review, November 9, 1918, p. 6

Subject: Flu Masks

Synopsis: In response to the state board of health’s order that everyone in the state be required to wear masks in public to prevent any further outbreak of influenza, a crowd of people rushed Spokane city hall to buy them. Public health officials had to be called in to control the crowd. The Red Cross, which had set up an area for people to buy them, sold 2,250 of them before running out. After a while, they received 800 more masks, and these were gone within half an hour. The sale was to resume the next day, with even more people expected to show up.

Notable Quotations:

• “The sale was conducted by the Red Cross and the crowd began to surge into the lower-floor corridor of the city hall in greater numbers than could be handled.”

• “Orders were issued yesterday afternoon by the city health men to owners of office buildings and buildings containing public passenger elevators that no passengers be admitted into the cars without masks.”

• “Where the citizen objects to wearing the mask he is to be invited to leave the car and use the stairways, and if he still persists the car is to be halted until an officer is called.”

• “Be a sport; put on a mask!”

“Crowds Rush To Buy Flu Masks”

[Two Subheadings Unreadable]

No One to Ride in Elevators Without Face Covering – State Edict Is Posted.

            Two inspectors from the city health office were required yesterday to control a crowd that gathered at the city hall to purchase influenza masks. The sale was conducted by the Red Cross and the crowd began to surge into the lower-floor corridor of the city hall in greater numbers than could be handled. Health Inspectors Paul J. Strobach and A.C. White were then detailed by Dr. John B. Anderson, city health officer, to assist the Red Cross women, and the crowd was soon lined up and at one time extended along the Wall street side of the city hall to the first alley south. At this sale 2250 masks were sold before the supply was exhausted.

800 Masks First Half Hour.

            At 4 p.m. the sale was again resumed with a supply of 800 masks, and again the officers were needed to handle the crowd. The supply lasted half an hour. The Red Cross sold the apron style masks with two upper strings for 5 cents and the surgical mask, with two upper and two lower strings, for 10 cents. It was found that at 5 cents the Red Cross was barely getting cost for the material and nothing for its labor. It was then concluded to make only the apron masks and sell them at 10 cents. The rush for masks is expected to be even greater today. The sale will be resumed in the city hall corridor at 10 o’clock this morning.

Must Have Masks to Use Elevators.

            The public will feel the first effect of the influenza mask order of the state board of health today. Orders were issued yesterday afternoon by the city health men to owners of office buildings and buildings containing public passenger elevators that no passengers be admitted into the cars without masks. Where the citizen objects to wearing the mask he is to be invited to leave the car and use the stairways, and if he still persists the car is to be halted until an officer is called. “It is either walk upstairs or wear a mask and ride in the elevator,” said Dr. Anderson. Mrs. Robert Fairley, an inspector for the city health office, served the notice on the building owners, who indicated their intention to comply.

Old National Fears Trouble.

            W.J. Kommers of the Old National bank appeared at the city health office soon after the issuance of the order and requested the aid of an officer in enforcing it in the Old National Bank building. He explained that women elevator operators are employed and that trouble might be experienced when it came to a small lady operator attempting to eject a bulky male passenger. After further discussion it was agreed that the elevator starter should take charge of the enforcement of the order and that if the job became too heavy for him the city health office would detail a man to help until the public complies. Large placards containing the order of the state board of health, together with a notice by the city health office, are being printed and will be displayed in all elevator landings.

            The following notice was prepared by the city health office for posting over the city today:

Post State Public Health Notice Today

            “Pursuant to an order of the state board of health, notice is hereby given to every person within the city of Spokane that they are in violation of law, under penalty, if they do not wear an influenza mask in all public places, the only exceptions being public streets and private homes or rooms and private conveyances, and in restaurants or places serving food, when the customer is actually engaged in eating.

            “The attention of all citizens is hereby officially directed to the above order.

            “For the purpose of the within order we recommend apron masks – that is, masks with two strings, as sufficient protection.

            “Caution: These masks, however, are not sufficiently protective to an attendant on an influenza case. The regular surgical mask, provided with four strings, should then be used.

            “Mr. Reader! Please! Don’t consider your personal opinion in this matter: be a sport; put on a mask.

            “We have faith that the people of this city will obey the law.

            “Why wait to buy a mask? Go home and make one! Excuses not valid.”