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Residents were warned, flu thought to continue for years

The first death in the city of Webster was reported Dec. 19, that of Anton Karpen, 41 who passed away after 10 days of illness. In the report, the paper said “death loves a shining mark.”

Elsewhere in that issue, the city ordered that residents and visitors wear a face mask, including business owners. Violators could be fined. The article went on to describe how to make such masks that were satisfactory to the job and instructions on how to thoroughly sterilize them each day.

The Dec. 26 paper announced “Influenza is on the wane” as few new cases were reported. The paper’s editors wrote, “Reports from various parts of the county indicated that the influenza is by no means a thing of the past, and some communities have been hard hit, notably in the vicinity of Langford where a number of deaths have been reported. Butler is also reported to have quite a number of cases, with one death reported this week. At present, however, the disease is on the wane and real winter weather is depended upon to wipe it out entirely.”

In an editorial elsewhere in that issue, it said, “The influenza gained headway throughout this county for two reasons: First, little was known of it. Second, people treated it as a sort of a joke for some time – and right at a time when prompted and efficient action all around would have resulted in curbing the disease before it became universally prevalent.

“In order that we may be spared the heartaches and misery that are bound to follow if the death rate reaches the proportions it has reached in some sections of the country, our people should cheerfully and promptly lend every aid possible to the health officers. They should take every precaution, both to guard against taking the disease themselves, and to guard against transmitting it to others. Every little cold and symptom should receive attention. People should guard against fear of the disease – for a person who is terrified that he may become a victim is in such a mental condition as to render him peculiarly susceptible.

“With hearty cooperation of all, good care of those infected and a determination to do our bit cheerfully towards stamping out a plague which is assuming alarming proportions, we may rest assured that the worst is past.”

The city didn’t lift the ban on school until Jan. 6, 1919. Even then, both teachers and pupils had to wear “influenza masks.” The city allowed churches to begin meeting again as long as they also abided by the face mask regulations. Lodges, shows and other venues were still to remain closed. The public was urged to continue wearing face masks while out and about but the specific ordinance related to that was lifted. The Jan. 9 issue heralded “Influenza Ban Is Taken Off” after another special meeting of the city’s health board in which officials lifted nearly every other restriction left on.

As that official action was taken, local news reports throughout the paper talked of people recovering from “a bout with influenza” and travel plans being postponed due to the epidemic. Day County residents weren’t completely out of the woods as additional deaths were reported throughout the county. Still, the general mood seemed to be one of hope with more reports of people recovering. Neighbors helped neighbors as entire families recovered.

Syndicated reports pointed out evidence from studies and warned residents to be prepared for multiple recurrences of the disease throughout the next several years, following the history of epidemics.

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