Did a Newspaper in 1918 Warn Readers ‘Wear Your Masks, Take No Chances’?

"If there were complete public co-operation, a combined offensive of the whole community would soon stamp out the evil," the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the 1918 flu pandemic.

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Image via U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Claim

During the 1918 flu pandemic, a newspaper advised readers to "Wear your masks, take no chances."

Origin

In August 2021, a widely shared tweet pointed to advice about mask wearing given during the 1918 influenza pandemic, and highlighted its relevance for those living through the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a century later. 

Peter Manseau posted the newspaper clipping on Aug. 25, presenting it in the form of a mock email:

To: 2021
From: 1918
Subject: Seriously, what’s your problem?

“Wear your masks. You may have a doubt as to their efficiency, but, at least you cannot see any harm in wearing them, while the mental attitude of precaution which they enforce upon you is a material assistance in driving out the disease. 

“If every man, woman and child in the community will do all that is expected for a few days, then in a few days we ought to be given a clean bill of health and life resumed under normal conditions. Wear your masks. Take no chances.”

That news clipping was entirely authentic, and originally appeared in an editorial column published by the San Francisco Chronicle, on Oct. 25, 1918. Manseau’s characterization of the paragraphs contained in his tweet were therefore accurate, and we are issuing a rating of “True.”

The column can be seen in its original context here, and can be read in full here, and below:

EPIDEMIC IS ABATING
Combined Offensive Against the Influenza Germ is Driving Him Out

While every precaution against the spread of the disease is still necessary, there are good reasons for believing that the worst of the influenza danger has been passed. New cases are still being reported, but the number each day is less than those for the earlier part of the week. The percentage of fatalities is also decreasing. 

Not all the death notices are of influenza cases and, moreover, it will be noted that some of the newspaper obituaries are printed more than once, thus giving the appearance of a larger daily average than is actually the death toll. 

There is continued improvement in the situation in all the Army camps; New York and other Eastern cities report that the epidemic is on the wane, and Pacific Coast towns show a marked decline in the number of new cases. 

The health authorities are doing wonderfully good work, and if there were complete public co-operation a combined offensive of the whole community would soon stamp out the evil. 

Wear your masks. You may have a doubt as to their efficiency, but, at least you cannot see any harm in wearing them, while the mental attitude of precaution which they enforce upon you is a material assistance in driving out the disease. 

If every man, woman and child in the community will do all that is expected for a few days, then in a few days we ought to be given a clean bill of health and life resumed under normal conditions. Wear your masks. Take no chances.

The 1918 flu pandemic had a devastating effect throughout the world, resulting in an estimated death toll of at least 50 million, including around 675,000 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, the U.S. Census Bureau later calculated that 477,467 deaths had taken place in the U.S. in 1918 alone.  

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many observers have highlighted parallels in the way public health authorities, governments and society at large were forced to deal with the 1918 pandemic, including enforcement of face-masking rules in public places, closure of schools and public amenities, and social distancing


Sources:

“Did 4 of the ‘Deadliest Days in American History’ Occur in December 2020?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/deadliest-days-usa-history/. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.

Did Cities Close Schools, Businesses During the 1918 Pandemic?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/closures-during-spanish-flu/. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.

“Does This Photograph Show Women Wearing ‘Flu Masks’?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/women-wearing-flu-masks-1918/. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.

History of 1918 Flu Pandemic | Pandemic Influenza (Flu) | CDC. 22 Jan. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm.

“Was Kissing Through Handkerchiefs Advised During 1918 Pandemic?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/handkerchiefs-kissing-covid/. Accessed 27 Aug. 2021.