Were cities that enacted lockdowns during the 1918 flu pandemic successful in preventing any infections?

Were cities that enacted lockdowns during the 1918 flu pandemic successful in preventing any infections?

Many parallels are currently being drawn between the flu pandemic of 1918 and the modern spread of the coronavirus, including how a lockdown was imposed in many cities:

It happened a century ago, too.

On Oct. 5, 1918, Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson made a stunning announcement.

He ordered “every place of indoor public assemblage in Seattle, including schools, theatres, motion picture houses, churches and dance halls closed by noon” that day, a Seattle Daily Times story said.

But what was the purpose of these lockdowns? Medicine was rudimentary and couldn't do much to help against viral infections - not that we're much more effective in 2020, given our struggles with COVID-19. Attempts were made to develop vaccine, but authorities weren't able to produce enough injections to inoculate the entire population. Contact tracing would've been impossible given the lack of available tests. Given the above, is it known if the lockdown of 1918 was actually effective or did every American eventually become ill with the novel flu regardless of the lockdowns?


Denver, Colorado is a good sample of the results when the measures start early, but are revoked too soon.

The goal of the lockdown is to prevent people meeting and transferring the virus on to others.

When started early, less people are effected and don't pass it on.

On Armistice Day (1918-11-11), people gathered together to celebrate with the result that the virus was passed on to others.

During the next 11 days, those newly infected, passed it on to others until the measures were reinstated.

This is the effect when such measures start too late. More people are affected and they in turn pass it on to others.

Had the measures not have been revoked, the second 'hump' would not have occurred (the effected people on the 11th would not have passed it on had they remained isolated) .

  • 1918-09-27: first death
  • 1918-10-06: first bans
    • 1918-10-15: 1.440 cases
    • 1918-11-11: removed, including face masks
      • 1918-11-18: 100 cases daily
    • 1918-11-22: reinstated (25th face masks)
      • 6000 cases, 500 deaths
      • 1918-11-27: 438 new cases, 17 deaths
  • 1918-12-31: 12.718 influenza cases, 1.218 deaths


St. Louis also imposed restrictions but did not revoke them for Armistice day: no second hump for that period. The restrictions were lifted on the 20th of December and reimposed 1 month later.

Philadelphia imposed no restrictions, which together with a higher, denser population caused the highest numbers of the US cities.

San Francisco, which was spared the first wave of spring of 1918, was aware of the problem but only reacted after the first cases became noticeable.

Deaths per 100.000 (above the expected usual death rate):

  • New York 452
  • St. Louis 356
  • Denver 631
  • San Francisco 672
  • Philadelphia 748

  • See How they flattened the curve during the 1918 Spanish Flu with English text description
    • and 37 other US cities

2020-04-29: 10 days into a relaxed shutdown

  • Active cases: 21.46% of total cases (6 weeks into lockdown)
    • 2020-04-06: 70.49% of total cases (3 weeks into lockdown)

A major difference to 1918 is that a social distance and encouraged usage of face masks requirements are still in place.


Sources:


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