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[[File:mask_violations.jpg|thumb|left|Figure 1. Men being escorted away from a building in 1918 San Francisco because they were not wearing masks. ]]__NOTOC__
The Covid-19 pandemic is not the first time in the United States that public health officials encouraged people to wear masks to limit the spread of a deadly virus. In the United States,
many have been angered by this request. This is not new. Similarly, during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic mask-wearing was also politicized. In desperation, public health officials then turned to a variety of tactics to convince Americans to wear masks.
====The 1918 Flu Pandemic and Masks====
By the autumn of 1918 in the United States, it was clear the flu pandemic was becoming out of control and that surging cases across the country required public health officials to issue direct guidance for people to wear masks. For some states, masks were
seen as part of policies such as social distancing, washing hands, and general cleanliness to avoid the spread of the virus. Some cities in the Western United States, including some cities now where we see hostility to wearing masks, passed laws that required masks to be worn at all times by the autumn of 1918. This included Phoenix, San Francisco, and even Juneau, Alaska (Figure 1).
Punishments ranged from fines to imprisonment in cities. While most punishments for not wearing a mask were fines, prison sentences did occur.
There was one infamous incident in San Francisco, where a special officer hired by the Board of Health to enforce mask-wearing, shot a man who had earlier refused to wear a mask; two bystanders even were hit during the shooting.
In another case in San Francisco, at a boxing match attended by many dignitaries from the city and government, a photographer shot a photo of that night and the well-known individuals present. That photograph led to many officials being shamed for not wearing masks. People who were caught not wearing masks included a congressman, a court justice, a Navy rear-admiral, a health officer, and the mayor.
This led to fines for these officials and public shaming, although none of these individuals were imprisoned as others had been.
Nevertheless, most people or places that had rules requiring masks generally had no major issues or incidents. Only after substantial declines in deaths and infections did most of these cities
that passed mask-wearing laws gradually removed the requirement about masks.<ref>For more on laws and ways cities got people to wear masks in the 1918 flu pandemic, see: Crosby, Alfred W. <i> America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918</i>. 2nd ed. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.</ref>
[[File:3a049913-e8f6-4e22-927c-df23ca2fa036-Mask style article.jpg|thumb|left|Figure 2. Masks being shown as fashion items that also potentially made the masks useless. ]]
Masks in 1918, however,
have been criticized for being ineffective or at least limited in preventing spread of the 1918 virus. The American Public Health Association in December 1918 concluded that wearing mask should be compulsory for medical staff, barbers, dentists, and other occupations that come into close contact with other individuals. However, it found masks were not always beneficial, but that mainly had to do with the materials they were made from or incorrect use of masks.
Thus, the board recommended that only workers in close contact wear them and others who wish to do so should be instructed on the proper way in making and wearing masks. A later study in 1927 did, however, show that those who wore masks generally did help to limit the spread of the 1918 virus. The study also determined there were many misconceptions of what masks were for and this was part of the problem.
====Other Efforts Related to Masks====
Not all cities passed such laws requiring masks in 1918, but there were still efforts to get people to wear masks. One effort attempted to get people to wear masks by stating that the effort was patriotic since it helped prevent the spread of the virus to US soldiers, who were severely impacted by the pandemic both in the US and in Europe while serving. This seems to have worked as it appealed to people's patriotism and feeling of supporting the war effort. There were still some dissenters and even an Anti-Mask League was formed in San Francisco. Other cities, such as Seattle, did try appealing to people's fashion sense as a way to get people to wear masks. One newspaper, <i>Seattle Daily Times</i>, even created a headlines titled:
“Influenza Veils Set New Fashion: Seattle Women Wearing Fine Mesh With Chiffon Border to Ward Off Malady."
The idea of calling them veils, rather than masks, was intended to get people to feel they were more of a fashion item, perhaps similar to how some masks today are relatively decorative (Figure 1). Perhaps also the newspaper took liberty with interpreting them as a new fashionable trend. Some ways suggested by newspapers, however, made masks useless, despite any positive intentions these newspapers had (Figure 2). Finally, embarrassing people was another tactic used, with some places having the local newspaper print the names of people who were caught not wearing a mask.<ref>For more direct and indirect methods used to get people to wear masks, see: Bristow, Nancy K. <i>American Pandemic the Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic</i>. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.</ref>