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When Denver backed off social distancing in the 1918 pandemic, the results were deadly

April 22, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

John Avlon writes that just like now with Covid-19, during the 1918 flu pandemic, some local leaders, like then-Denver Mayor William Fitz Randolph Mills, caved into pressures to ignore social distancing and open up after protests, but it backfired.

The city had been all but locked down for five weeks and now there was something worth celebrating -- the end of the First World War. Grateful citizens streamed into the streets of the city on November 11, 1918, soon after Denver's Manager of Health William H.

His enthusiasm was premature but understandable: Denver officials could point to progress in containing the disease at that time, compared with other cities like Chicago.

Even in those early days of public health, with limited scientific remedies, social distancing and masks were understood to help stem the tide of pandemic.

In the town of Montrose, Colorado, as the Denver Post recounted, a health officer named Isaiah Knott warned his fellow citizens that "if you are sick and do not stay away from social gatherings, you have the heart of a hun," using a derogatory term for the Germans the US was fighting at the time.

While some experts tried to calm fears by saying the Spanish influenza epidemic was "ordinary influenza by another name," according to John Barry, the author of the book "The Great Influenza," by the end of the pandemic, an estimated 675,000 Americans died, primarily in the fall of 1918, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Five days later, Denver Post headlines blared the bad news: "All Flu Records Smashed in Denver in Last 24 Hours," claiming that more Denver residents had died of influenza than Coloradans killed in the First World War.

In the end, 8,000 people in Colorado died, but the towns that socially isolated consistently, like Gunnison, did far better than Denver.

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