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Reflections on another pandemic, from more than a century ago

Much like the novel coronavirus COVID-19 which is now sweeping the nation, the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 triggered closings of churches, schools and businesses, in an effort to stop its spread.

Unlike today, however, as Americans watch the approach of the virus and take preventive steps before it arrives, that deadly flu arrived in a rush after news of it was reportedly suppressed in order to prevent national panic. At the time it appeared with its deadly consequences, the United States was deeply involved in World War I and marching toward victory in Europe.

PHOTO COURTESY WILLIAM MOTT FIELD Sgt. Edward George Field, son of Sheriff and Mrs. George B. Field of Gloucester, died of broncho-pneumonia in December 1918. Many soldiers developed pneumonia after a case of the Spanish influenza.

News of the pandemic broke censorship’s bounds when flu deaths began to appear locally in the fall of 1918. The first apparent notice we find in the Mathews Journal appeared on Oct. 3...

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