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On October 18th, Oregon officials reported that cases of influenza had occurred in Eugene, Portland, Corvallis, Baker, Pendleton and other places. The disease had undoubtedly been prevalent in the state for some time but officials were optimistic, believing that they had the situation under control. By late October, however, state officials were forced to admit that their reports were incomplete and the situation was probably worse than they were prepared to admit.

A color poster of a Red Cross nurse holding a young infant while a little girl stands at her side. The poster reads “The America of Tomorrow.  The Red Cross fosters community health.
In Oregon, Red Cross volunteers played an especially crucial in providing both care for patients as well as supplies to treat those who were ill. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

Across the state, Oregonians turned to the Red Cross, begging for their assistance in providing supplies and services. Red Cross nurses and helpers treated patients in their homes and hospitals. In Klamath Falls, Red Cross volunteers made masks, pneumonia jackets, and other articles which were then distributed to doctors. Demands for supplies were such that volunteers were forced to work seven days a week simply to keep up. In Klamath Falls, the Red Cross helped out financially, agreeing to pay for one third of the expenses related to the second wave of the epidemic.

Small towns across the state were especially hard hit. In Denio, a public health nurse expressed her concerns about the situation there, saying “there is no food, no bedding and absolutely no conception of the first principles of hygiene, sanitation, or nursing care.” In an attempt to deal with the crisis, a hotel was transformed into a hospital. But even then, the situation was still serious and the nurse begged those outside the community to “send supplies before we get snowed in for the winter.”

Medford became the first city in the state to ban public gatherings. Churches, movie theaters, schools, and anyplace “where people congregate” closed. But the disease continued to spread and on October 23rd, city officials required all residences with a case of influenza to post a quarantine sign. By the second week of December, a desperate City Council passed an ordinance stipulating that anyone conducting business in the city be ordered to wear a mask. Although officials were unaware of it, the masks of the time did little to prevent the spread of the disease.

In cities and towns, Oregonians were at a loss as to how to treat the disease. In Portland, one mother boasted that dosing her four year old daughter with onion syrup and burying her from head to toe for three days in raw onions had cured the girl. In Denio, requests for feeding cups, drinking tubes, “lots of gauze and cheesecloth” as well as cotton for “pneumonia jackets” and “gallons of formaldehyde” indicate that practitioners there were also prepared to use a range of tactics in treating the disease.

As elsewhere, the disease began to decline in late November. The disease remained prevalent throughout the state during the winter and spring of 1919.

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