The 1918 Flu Pandemic in Wyoming
In 1918 World War 1 was winding down. The war meant there was lots of worldwide travel and people moving. In the spring of that year, the first cases of an unknown sickness were identified in US troops. It was the flu, but a new H1N1 influenza virus that led to a worldwide pandemic. It came to be known as the Spanish Flu, but there's no real proof about the origin of the virus.
While first identified in the spring, the pandemic really ramped up in the fall and winter of 1918-1919. During the 1918 pandemic, the CDC says that at least 50 million deaths worldwide were connected to the virus, and as much as one-third of the world's population (500 million) were infected. In the United States, about 675,000 people died because of the new flu.
In Wyoming, it is estimated that 780 people died from the flu directly or from flu-related complications like pneumonia, between October 1918 and January 1919. The state's population at the time was about 181,000 people.
"Local and state public health officials drastically curtailed public activities—shopping was limited, schools closed and public and private gatherings were canceled, so fearful was everyone of the spread of the disease." - wyohistory.org
As the pandemic raged through the fall, life changed in many ways. People wearing masks was not an uncommon sight. The best defense at the time was good hygiene and staying home. By the middle of September 1918, schools had closed in most counties in Wyoming.
"Owing to the influenza epidemic and the resulting quarantine,” wrote A.S. Jessup, city superintendent of Cheyenne schools and reported by WyoHistory.org, “little work has been done [on Red Cross war projects] since schools opened in September 1918, as the schools have been closed longer periods than they have been in session."
Many schools in Wyoming remained closed until after Christmas. Additionally, businesses stayed closed or limited the number of people they'd admit at one time. Public places like theatres and churches were closed and events were canceled. Some Wyoming towns even enacted quarantines.
"During the quarantine, business has practically been at a standstill, several of the establishments suffering a total loss of customers during the time they were closed," an editor of a Cooksville, Wyoming newspaper said about the town's quarantine.
The University of Wyoming in Laramie even canceled classes for a time. The Wyoming Student newspaper reported that "[T]he culmination of the growing epidemic of Spanish influenza throughout the city came on the afternoon of Tuesday a week ago when the health authorities ordered all places of amusement, all public gatherings, and all schools closed until further notice.”
The flu's grip on Wyoming continued through the winter of '18-'19. The last cases in the state were reported early in the winter, but precautions continued in many places into the summer months of 1919.