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Looking back at 1918 influenza pandemic

  • The front page of the Oct. 2, 1918 edition of the Greenfield Recorder. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The front page of the Oct. 2, 1918 edition of the Greenfield Recorder. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The front page of the Oct. 2, 1918 edition of the Greenfield Recorder. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 4/6/2020 4:16:25 PM

Editor’s Note: The Greenfield Recorder searched its archives to find coverage of the Spanish influenza and pneumonia pandemic that swept the world 102 years ago. Here is the exact text of two articles published October 1918 in the Greenfield Recorder.

From the Greenfield Recorder, Oct. 2, 1918

Headline: “234 cases had been reported up to last night, 78 being new Yesterday — 13 More Have Been Reported Today”

With a total of 234 reported cases, 78 of which were new yesterday and with one physician yet to hear from, Greenfield is beginning to get its share of the Spanish influenza and pneumonia epidemic, which is now sweeping Massachusetts. The cases reported are by no means all of the dangerous type, but there are enough of this kind to call for the strictest caution on the part of everyone to do nothing which will tend to spread the disease. On Saturday, the Board of Health ordered the theatres and schools closed until further notice, and recommended the closing of churches. Yesterday, they made the closing of churches mandatory. They have also forbidden all assemblages of people and until further notice lodges and societies must not hold meetings. Open club rooms cannot be maintained for the present, and the public library was closed at noon today for an indefinite period. There is an extreme shortage of physicians and nurses on account of the war and those available are greatly overworked. The local hospitals are doing their best to cope with cases needing care, but if the epidemic continues to develop, they will soon be crowded to capacity.

The Board of Health, in a statement issued yesterday, says the situation is not alarming, but warns the serious attention of all in the effort to prevent further spread of the malady. There is no need for the public to become panic stricken, and the review of a few facts will help to reassure: (1) There are many colds which are not true influenza, so do not think that everyone you see with symptoms of a cold has the disease; (2) taking all of the cases as they run, comparatively few are severe; (3) few people die of uncomplicated influenza, most of the deaths are due to pneumonia; (4) compared to the number of influenza cases, few develop pneumonia; (5) all of these pneumonia cases are not fatal, in fact, in parts of the state where influenza has been most prevalent, the death rate has been only about two per cent.

The board advises people to keep away from crowded places, to avoid persons who sneeze or cough and to smother their own sneeze and coughs in their handkerchiefs. Cleanliness is a very important consideration. Warm clothing should be worn by everyone, and houses should be warmed sufficiently to drive out dampness. Sleep with windows open and have plenty of bed clothing. Take plenty of sleep and keep in the open air and sunshine as much as possible. If you feel sick, however how slightly, see a physician. Walk to work if possible, do not ride in crowded streetcars. Don’t use a common towel or drinking cup.

The board suggests the following relative to calling for physicians: Call a doctor early in the day if possible; if the call is not put in until late in the day, it may not be possible to respond to it until the following day. If the doctor does not come for several hours, it is because there are several calls ahead of yours. When calling for a doctor, leave the case with the one who answers the phone, as the physician may be in your neighborhood and can be sent you with the least delay. Do not expect physicians to answer calls between 10 p.m. and early morning, except in cases of extreme emergency. The doctors are overworked and must have sleep if they are to hold out. Remember that there is a shortage of both physicians and nurses.

At Turners Falls, there are from 75 to 100 cases of the epidemic and the first death from it occurred last evening. The fact that two physicians Dr. Messer and Leary, are ill, puts the burden of fighting the disease upon doctors McGillicuddy and Charron. Both doctors have been on duty practically night and day since the influenza made its appearance, and unless aid is sent there soon they will be compelled to give up. the Board of Health has asked the state Department of Health to send a physician as soon as possible. In Millers Falls, the epidemic passed beyond the ability of two physicians to handle it, and the state department has given them the assistance of an additional doctor.

From the Greenfield Recorder Oct. 9, 1918

Headline: “Takes heavy toll. More than 800 epidemic cases now. Week has seen heavy death lists but new cases appear to be declining. Turners Falls also has been hard hit.”

The second week of the epidemic of influenza and pneumonia in Greenfield has seen still greater prevalence of disease, the number of cases rising above 800 yesterday. Since Sunday, however, there has been a decrease in the number of new cases recorded, which tends to show that the crest of the wave has passed and that the preventative measures adopted by the Board of Health are beginning to have an effect. The shortage of doctors and nurses has been more keenly felt within the past few days than before for the reason that both hospitals are crowded and new cases must be cared for in their own homes. The Board of Health has been besieged with calls for assistance, chiefly for nurses, and while a few extra ones have been obtained from outside, there are nowhere near enough to supply the demand in many cases where expert care would be desirable to not have it because it is physically impossible to obtain the nurses. Yesterday, D.E. Gingras of the Goodell-Pratt Co. and I.L. Bartlett left on an automobile tour of eastern New York State with a view to getting medical and nursing assistance, and the board of health may send out two more representatives tonight to tour other territories for the same purpose.

On Sunday Drs. Lahun and Taylor of New York arrived to assist, the former being sent by the federal government and the latter by the state health department. The extra nurses were secured by the combined efforts of the women’s committee of the council of national defense and local citizens, the latter being able to secure them through acquaintances in distant cities. One nurse came from Rochester, N.Y., Miss Higgins and Miss Rita Burke, Boston nurses who came here for a rest, gave up their vacations and begin working, Miss Higgins assisting Miss Koch, the district nurse, who had been greatly overworked, and at Miss Burke going to West Deerfield to care for Dr. W.K. Clark, who is seriously ill.

On Saturday, the board of health decided that it was advisable to close the saloons and soda fountains in addition to the schools, theaters, lodges and clubs and the order went into effect Monday morning. Greenfield Lodge of Elks has offered its clubhouse and the Hotel Weldon management has offered the hotel annex for use as an emergency hospital, but the board of health accepted only the latter as the hotel building is equipped with beds, and is generally better adapted to hospital purposes. It cannot be opened, however, until a nursing staff can be secured to handle it.

The high tide of new cases was on Saturday when 223 were reported to the board of health. Sunday and Monday there was a falling off, only 54 cases being reported, while yesterday the record took another jump upward with 97 cases. However these figures are not closely accurate of the daily barometer of the progress of the epidemic, for the reason that many old cases are included in each day’s figures. It is impossible for the physicians to make a report of their new cases each day, with the result that some send in at one time new cases covering several days.

Last night the board of health and district nurse had a conference with Dr. Howard Streeter of Pittsfield, the district health officer, who came to make a survey of the situation. The question of having one or two physicians to remain on duty nights and rest days was considered, and this may be put into effect. The situation now makes it difficult to get a doctor after 10 p.m., as all of them are on the jump the entire day and must get sufficient rest in order to hold out. Calls for a doctor are sent to the board of health, and the best that can be done is to respond to them in order when a doctor becomes available.

There is one point in connection with the epidemic which seems to need emphasis, and that is the need of greater uniformity throughout the county in the matter of rules of restraint. The local board of health has exercises its powers wisely in closing up every place of public assemblage as well as other places where there is a possibility of the infection being spread. If closing the saloons and soda fountains is regarded as a proper precaution in Greenfield, it would seem that the same measures ought to be put into effect in every town in the county. If local boards will not take these greatly needed steps, it is time they were advised as to their duty by the state health department.

From the Greenfield Recorder Oct. 16, 1918

Many Deaths Yesterday.

Rest of county beginning to feel effects of influenza epidamic.




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