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Georgia state authorities found themselves overwhelmed as influenza cases mounted during late September. State officials were unable to report to PHS during the early part of the epidemic as a result. Influenza probably first emerged in the state during late September. However, state officials filed their first report on October 19. On that date, they claimed that the state had 6,304 cases with 68 deaths. The real number of cases and deaths was probably much higher. The next week saw an increase in the number of cases: 9,637 cases and 308 deaths were reported. The following week, the week ending November 2nd, saw a tapering off of the epidemic with only 4,287 cases and 138 deaths being reported.

A view of the buildings and Confederate Monument on Broad St. in Augusta, Georgia, c1903.
c1903 The Albion Hotel once stood adjacent to the Confederate Monument on Broad St. in Augusta, Georgia. Augusta was the hardest hit city in the state during the epidemic. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

The Atlanta City Council declared all public gathering places closed for two months as a precautionary measure. Schools, libraries, churches, and theaters also closed. Streetcar conductors were directed to keep all windows open -- except in rain. In an attempt to stop the epidemic before it reached Athens, the University of Georgia suspended classes. In Augusta, where influenza was rampant, the city suffered from a shortage of nurses. The situation became so acute that nursing students were put in charge of some shifts at the local hospital. An emergency hospital was also constructed on a local fairground, and school teachers were enlisted to act as nurses, cooks and hospital clerks.

In Sylvester, a local physician wrote to one of the states senators,“During my stay here the influenza situation has been so acute that I was pressed into service -- people actually coming for me in their cars and [doing so] eagerly. Thus it can be said that I have been treating influenza exclusively.” The physician then tried to sell the federal government on a “cure” he had developed himself.

In Quitman, GA, Supplemental Rules to combat influenza were put into place. These stated, in part, that:

  • No public gatherings in churches or the court house or city houses for any purpose
  • No drinks of any kind served at public places, except bottled goods, drinks served in individual sanitary cups, drinks served in glasses thoroughly sterilized every time used
  • Ice cream shall not be served except in individual cones or receptacles
  • No social gatherings of any kind within the city limits
  • All places of business shall be thoroughly ventilated
  • People shall sneeze and cough in their handkerchiefs
  • All cases of influenza shall be quarantined and a placard stating “influenza” shall be displayed where there is influenza

And in Columbus, GA a PHS officer sent this telegram to Surgeon General Rupert Blue in December:

Recurrence influenza epidemic becoming serious over four hundred cases this week are bureau funds available for nursing assistance?

Regarding this telegram, you may want to note that the PHS did agree to pay these nurses but payment was slow in coming and many nurses found themselves having to write repeatedly to the PHS to ask for their pay.

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