In recent weeks, evidence has begun to support masks as an effective means of combating the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets, and masks block the spread of respiratory droplets; therefore, when two people wearing masks come into contact with one another, the respiratory droplets do not spread nearly as easily as without masks.
Despite this evidence, some people still refuse to wear masks (which is partially why the South is hit so hard by the virus), and as I was reading some of these arguments against masks on social media, I wondered whether people alive during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic wore masks and whether there were people extremely opposed to masks. I discovered that people did wear masks and that there were people who refused to wear them as well.
According to Becky Little, a writer for the History Channel, various governments within the United States combated that Spanish Flu in 1918 by “closing schools and places of public amusement, enforcing ‘no-spitting’ ordinances, encouraging people to use handkerchiefs or disposable tissues and requiring people to wear masks in public.”
People during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic faced similar conditions as those today, including mask mandates. However, unlike today, people who refused to wear masks could not find much of a validation for their misinformed opinions.
People who refused to wear masks were called “slacker[s]” (Little, 1), especially while WWI still raged in Europe. There was a sense of duty to keep the American troops safe from infection. Because of these factors, compliance with mask mandates was extremely high.
After WWI ended, this sense of duty began to fade, and the number of people who refused to wear masks began to grow. Some people began complaining about how uncomfortable masks were and questioning whether this was an infringement upon civil liberties.
They did not grow much at all, however, and the general consensus was that masks would help the country as a whole. The people who refused faced punishments as well. If someone refused to wear a mask during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, he or she could expect to endure “fines, prison sentences, and having your name printed in the paper” (Little, 1).
These people were also called unpatriotic for refusing to wear a mask. Although the policies for combating the pandemic were similar to that of today’s, the enforcement of those policies is drastically different, and some people should be thankful for that.
Mask mandates during a global pandemic are not new idea. During the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, they played a role in slowing the spread of the virus, and during the current COVID-19 pandemic, they are an effective tool for slowing the spread.
Like in 1918, there were dissenters. These dissenters refused to wear masks for many of the same reasons as the dissenters today cite; the modern-day dissenters should be extremely thankful that they do not face the same threat of punishment and public shame that accompanied a refusal to wear a mask during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.
We will not be wearing masks forever, and the pandemic will not last forever. Things will go return to normal one day, and the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic will be another chapter in the history books.
Matt Hennington covers the Union community beat. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.