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What Happened When LA Lifted Its Quarantine During The 1918 Flu Pandemic?

Pasadena, approximately 1919: Patients rest in hospital beds while nurses wearing breathing masks tend to them. This photo was likely taken in the isolation ward at Wilson High School during the 1918 and 1919 influenza epidemic.
(Harold A. Parker/Huntington Digital Library)
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December 3, 1918 was a celebratory day for Los Angeles. After seven long weeks, city officials had finally lifted the "influenza ban" that had shut down schools, churches and most stores.

How'd that work out?

L.A. soon saw an uptick in cases of the deadly "Spanish Flu," especially among school-age children, local writer and historian Hadley Meares explains.

By mid-December, officials once again had to cancel schools and reinstate some restrictions. To appease business leaders, they did not reinstate the ban on public gatherings and they allowed businesses to stay open unless employees had been diagnosed with the flu.

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"For the rest of the epidemic, the City Council appropriated money as needed to give the health department enough quarantine inspectors to visit homes, manufacturing plants, stores, hotels, and apartment houses," notes the University of Michigan's Influenza Archive. "These temporary inspectors, many of whom were returning veterans, also ran errands for the sick and ministered to the needs of affected families."

As political leaders debate the human vs. the economic cost of our current coronavirus quarantine, it's important to understand our past. It's even better to learn from it.