Echoes of 1918

The last great pandemic has remarkable similarities to our own.

As The Great War staggered through its final, exhausted blows at the Somme, the Marne and Amiens in 1918, one global Gehenna was giving way to another: the Spanish Flu.

The pandemic that ravaged an already battered world serves as our most apt historical analogue to this coronavirus-fraught year. Then, like now, Nevada wasn’t spared. Masks, isolation, and social distancing, it turns out, were good advice 102 years ago, too.

In the Nov. 9, 1918, edition of Las Vegas Age — available in the University Libraries’ Special Collections and its digital archive — Clark County Health Officer Dr. Roy W. Martin, wrote:

“We are in the midst of an influenza epidemic which has been sweeping the country for several weeks. It must be controlled or a great loss of life will result. … Assist in preventing gatherings and crowds. Insist on isolation of people with symptoms of influenza. Demand that all people who care for influenza cases wear masks. … Do not stand close to or directly in front of one while talking. We respectfully urge every person to wear a mask as required by the order of the City Commissioners.” 

Read Interim Director of Special Collections & Archives Peter Michel’s deep dive into the flu’s toll on Nevada in the Nevada Digital Newspaper Project.



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