Culture Wars/Current Controversies
Everyone wore masks during the 1918 flu pandemic. They were useless.
In “we have always been at war with East Asia” news…this appeared in the WaPo in April.
By Eliza McGraw
People called them “flu fences” and “chin sails.” Gala attendees fastened theirs with gaudy earrings. Smokers cut flaps in them, and movie houses gave them away with tickets.
During the influenza pandemic of 1918, officials often advised Americans to wear face masks in public. Doctors believed that masks could help prevent “spray infections,” according to historian John M. Barry in his book, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.” Enforced by local health officials, the facial coverings grew routine. Often, Red Cross chapters fashioned and distributed the masks that were “seen everywhere and would become a symbol of the epidemic,” Barry wrote. Americans used the masks as a method of retaining some normalcy during a pandemic that killed at least 675,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide. It was the only aspect of the catastrophe discussed with any humor.