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In the Public Health Reports (September 28, 1917), the PHS reported that “cases have appeared at Key West.” The following week PHS reported that “epidemics have been reported from Key West and Pensacola.” On the week of October 18th, the PHS reported that “from October 5 to 15, 158 deaths from influenza and pneumonia were reported from principal cities in Florida. On October 15, it was estimated that 800 cases were under treatment in the civil[ian] population at Key West.” On October 25th, PHS reported “for the period October 5 to 17, deaths were reported as follows: Jacksonville, 234 [Jacksonville had a population of 91,000 and it seems to have been the state’s largest city at the time), Tampa, 30, Miami, 26, Key West, 22, Gainesville, 10, Scattering 49, total 371. The number of deaths increased rapidly from October 5 to 12.” On November 1st, PHS said “It was stated on October 24 that conditions were looking better from all points and that the wave had hit Tampa last.” The high part of the pandemic occurred during the week of October 19th when there were 428 deaths reported that week alone. Exact statistics are not possible for Florida because the state did not report consistently.

An aerial view of the plaza and harbor in Pensacola, Florida.
An aerial view of the plaza and harbor in Pensacola, Florida. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

In the fall of 1918, John Olson’s father traveled from Ocala to Jacksonville for a carpentry job. Jacksonville was inundated with the flu at the time. Although they had enacted a city-wide quarantine and citizens were encouraged to use gauze masks, Olson’s father became infected. Eager to return to his hometown and family, he slipped past the quarantine and caught a train back home, bringing the virus with him. Within days of his return, he had become ill and infected his family. Looking back on the experience, Olson remembered “I was lying in bed and Father was lying in bed and we were both pretty sick.” Olson recovered but others did not. Eight year old Carl Lindner and his five year old cousin, Philip Townsend shared a room in the Marion County hospital in 1919. Both were ill with influenza. When Townsend recovered, he asked the nurses “Where is Carl?” The nurses told him Carl had already gone home, but the truth was Carl had died from influenza and the nurses were uncertain as to how to tell a five year old that his cousin had died. Two weeks later, Carl’s father died from influenza and the week after that, Carl’s maternal grandfather died from the disease.

University of Florida, Gainesville: In the crowded conditions on campus, the disease spread rapidly. Hundreds of students and faculty, including President Murphree, were taken ill at the same time. In Murphree’s stead, Vice President James Marion Farr directed the influenza campaign. Women from the Gainesville Red Cross provided most of the bedside care, assisted by healthy students and faculty. Beds were hauled from the dormitories to the Agriculture Building (Floyd-Griffin Hall) where a temporary hospital was set up in an auditorium. The initial outbreak abated as quickly as it struck, but subsequent smaller outbreaks occurred into 1919. No figures on the number of patients treated exist, but the death toll included math professor Herbert Keppel and several students.

Black and white image of dozens of male workers sitting on barrels or on the ground eating dinner at a dock in Jacksonville, Florida.
c1915. Dinner Hour on the docks in Jacksonville, Florida. Unsanitary conditions and a lack of understanding of how the disease was transmitted contributed to the spread of influenza. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

By Oct. 7, the St. Johns County Council of Defense (the county in which St. Augustine is located) banned public gatherings. Schools closed, church services were canceled, and movie theaters and soda fountains were shut. By Halloween, the flu threat had abated. On Nov. 1, the County Council ended the ban on public gatherings. Church services resumed after a "churchless October." Schools went back into session. For health reasons, the School Board voted to limit classroom size to no more than 40 to control contamination. Ads for movies returned to the newspaper. The Jefferson Theatre (located at today's downtown Bank of America parking lot) boasted that it had been "thoroughly aired and fumigated. Disinfectant has been used freely."

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