Masks in the mirror: From Spanish Flu to COVID-19, CSU duo shows how history repeats itself

Local News

David Owings and Ryan Lynch have a common interest — history.  Owings is the archivist at the Columbus State University library.  Lynch is a CSU history professor.   

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Owings thought it would be interesting to look back at how the Spanish Flu impacted Columbus when it hit in 1918.

And he knew where to look.

A deep dive into the Columbus State University archives has produced some fascinating revelations about how Columbus was impacted by the Spanish Flu in 1918.

The research also reveals just how similar our responses are today. — 102 years later — during the Covid-19 crisis.

“I knew we had the archives of the Ledger-Enquirer papers here and, of course, their predecessor The Enquirer Sun which is where we’re finding these stories now,” Owings said. 

He pulled old newspapers from October 1918 and some of the headlines read just like today’s.  

“A lot of the articles you see in October are interviews with public health officials or responses from public health officials and members of the community who were really concerned about being required to mask…or didn’t fully understand the benefits of masking or why it mattered,”  Lynch said. 

They were even fighting masks.

“Eventually you see a mask ordinance come out where people are required to wear masks and you see push back from that,”Ownings said. 

One of the October 1918 articles reports, quote:  “…the board of health control has full authority to adopt such measures as it thinks necessary to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, and the order to wear flu masks is one of the measures adopted.” End quote.  

What happened if a business refused to go along with the mask order?  The newspaper reports that according to Lt. Hoskins, the head of the board of health in Columbus, quote: “…we will either close such places of business or hall the offenders in police court, or both.”  End quote.  

“There’s one particular article that we shared that involves Columbus making the decision and Georgia making the decision to close schools,” Lynch said.

“At the same time there was hope that they would open only in a week or two,” Lynch said. “I think in some cases we maybe had those feelings in March when similar decisions were made here in Columbus with this pandemic.  There was this hope that a few weeks would pass of isolation and ultimately that would be enough to overcome the virus.  And what they also experienced in 1918, just as we are experiencing now, is that this is going to be a longer haul than expected.”

www.digitalarchives.columbusstate.edu

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