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How Idaho navigated the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza

While we don't know exactly when things will go back to normal, we can look back on history to show us that it eventually does.

BOISE, Idaho — The coronavirus is scary and uncharted territory for many of us, but this isn't the first time we've been hit with a widespread outbreak, far from it, actually.

One of the earliest pandemics on record? The "Plague of Justinian," which spread throughout Constantinople in the sixth century.

That was followed by a number of other pandemics, including smallpox, yellow fever, and the Spanish flu in 1918, the one we keep referencing as we navigate the coronavirus.

The Spanish Influenza arrived in Idaho in the middle of September. Before then, the public health service did not require states to report cases.

So when states did start reporting those cases, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said the number of cases had grown to such an extent that by mid-October of 1918, Idaho was unable to track the outbreak accurately.

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In the October 23, 1918 edition of the Challis Messenger, local health officials established a 72-hour quarantine of the Round Valley:

"Though the step may appear to some as too drastic, it is the only thing to do and the health officers are to be commended on the action taken. if every community in the country would follow the example of the Round Valley the flu epidemic would run itself out in a short time."

The Grangeville Globe posted a similar article in which the school board ordered all schools to close to stop the spread:

"The school board has made an order closing the city schools on account of influenze (sic) until further notice. the board requests all parents and guardians to keep their children at home as much as possible, and by all means, keep them off the public streets and places where people usually congregate."

Schools did close statewide, just like they're doing now.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says while influenza rates slowed during the latter part of 1918, it wasn't until the summer of 1919 that the disease began to disappear from the state.

While we don't know exactly when things will go back to normal, we can look back on history to show us that it eventually does.

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