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Lessons to be learned from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in Seattle

The flu arrived from Europe in September. And only weeks later, thousands of cases emerged.

SEATTLE — These are unprecedented times. But, not entirely different than what the nation experienced in 1918 when the Spanish Flu swept the globe, killing as many as 100 million people.

The 1918 pandemic caused 1,512 deaths in Seattle. There are lessons to be learned today.

"One hundred years ago, we took the very steps we see today in response to the coronavirus," said Leonard Garfield, Executive Director of the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

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The Spanish Flu arrived in America from soldiers returning from World War 1. By September of 1918, cases began emerging in Seattle. Within a few weeks, the city was shocked to see thousands of cases emerge. 

Mayor Ole Hanson took swift action.

"Within a few days of the first illness, he closed the schools, he closed the theaters, and he prohibited people from any large gatherings," Garfield said. 

Like we see today, many wore masks and took steps to quarantine themselves. 

Then, in November, at the end of World War l, the number of new cases were slower to emerge. The community thought they'd beaten the virus. So many of the social restrictions were lifted. 

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That's when the virus came roaring back in December. 

"There was an echo affect. A bump of new cases in December," Garfield said. "The city became so worried it would repeat itself, they actually began to force quarantine on people who showed any signs of illness."

That made a difference. Tighter restrictions worked. By March, six months after cases emerged, Seattle was in the clear. 

The Spanish Flu began to reappear the following Fall of 1919, but there were far fewer deaths. 

Garfield points out there are lessons to be learned.

"We need to follow the lead of our public health authorities. What we learned 100 years ago is that pandemics will come and we know there will be another one in our future."