The first cases in Utah undoubtedly appeared in the military camp at Fort Douglas. Like many states with a large rural population, Utah did not provide a report to the Public Health Service in the early weeks of the pandemic. This may have been because they were overwhelemed by the spread of the disease or it may have been because the state did not have enough public health officials available to make the weekly reports the Public Health Service demanded. By the middle of October, when the state made its first report, the disease could be found throughout the state.
Public health officials reacted by passing laws requiring citizens to wear masks. Across the state, the wearing of masks became common. In Cedar City, a parade celebrating the end of the war included a statue of Lady Liberty wearing a mask. In Park City, masks were credited with limiting the impact of the disease there, but public health officials were mistaken in their assumptions. The masks of the time did little to prevent the spread of the disease.
Spitting, a common practice, was condemned and those who spit in public were fined.
Quarantines were imposed. In Ogden City no one was allowed in or out of the city without a note from a doctor. Elsewhere, church meetings, funerals, private parties and all public gatherings were cancelled or limited. When the Latter Day Saints Church President Joseph Fielding Smith died on November 19th, the service was limited to only a few family members.
Failing to understand the cause of the disease, people turned to a variety of remedies. Alcohol, normally banned in the state, was sold to doctors who used it to treat patients. In Panguitch (near Bryce Canyon), Margaret Callister was a young child when the pandemic erupted. She remembered "dead people were all around us, three or four to a family." Following a typical folk practice, her mother put sacks of herbs around her neck and those of her siblings to prevent influenza. No one died in her family, although several were ill.
In the small town of Meadow, residents knew only that "germs" caused the disease. Unsure what germs were and how they were transmitted, families closed up their homes, sealing keyholes and cracks around doors with cotton to prevent the invasion of germs. These tactics proved ineffective and residents resorted to herbal remedies concocted by Martha Adams, a local healer.
The disease waned during the late fall but it remained present throughout the winter and spring of 1919.
|In Ogden, shown here in a photograph from 1914, city officials prevented anyone from entering the city without a clean bill of health from a doctor. [Credit: The Library of Congress]|