Friday, October 28, 2011

28 October 1918: Athens Quarantine Partially Lifted

On this day in 1918, at 7 o'clock in the morning, the quarantine that had been imposed on the city of Athens and the county of Clarke for the previous three weeks, was partially lifted. County schools, the Lucy Cobb Institute, the University of Georgia and State Normal School, and church services would be allowed to meet, but "city schools, movie houses, theatre, pool rooms, shooting galleries, soda founts and ice cream parlors will remain closed." Sunday schools were also asked to refrain from meeting.

The quarantine had first gone into effect October 7th, when Athens had only a few cases of influenza reported, but wanted to avoid a larger outbreak. Mayor Andrew Erwin had the Chief of Police notify the management of a carnival scheduled to come to town that they would have to cancel their visit, and strict enforcement of the anti-spitting ordinance was put into effect. 

The Board of Health met and immediately closed gathering places such as movie theatres, pool halls, soda fountains, and other "amusements." Physicians or the head of a household where the flu struck had to report the case to the Board of Heath within 24 hours, and city schools were closed. The University of Georgia shut down, and all students who lived off the campus were told to stay at home. The Superior Court also delayed their October session. The only exceptions for meetings were for "necessary war work."

Despite the drastic procedures, the Athens Banner took a measured tone, telling its readers that "there is no need for fear, precaution and proper care from exposure will do more to wipe out the disease than anything else." People were generally asked to stay home, and most were willing to comply. In order for students to return to school, they had to present a letter from a physician stating they had not been exposed to the disease for the previous seven days.

Upon partial removal of quarantine, the chairman of Athens Board of Health, Dr. McKinney, did ask for everyone to "continue to exercise the greatest of care for we are not yet out of danger of a further spread of the contagion." Though only 5% of Athens was thought to have contracted the flu, the epidemic was harshest on those ages 15-34, and was so severe "that the average lifespan in the US was depressed by 10 years." 

By early November, it was news that the Colonial had booked entertainment for two weeks out,  but there is no article that notes the official date quarantine was fully lifted from the city. When Armistice to end World War I was declared on November 12, hundreds of citizens and students gathered in the streets to celebrate the event, with no thought of the flu.

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