SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) The face masks, the closed public areas, the quarantine spaces.
With the help of the Lackawanna Historical Society, photojournalist Joseph Butash takes a look back at some of the 1918 flu pandemic.
“First was the United States at a naval base in Boston, moved to New Orleans and Philadelphia. It came to Scranton shortly after that. So it started appearing the very end of September in 1918. It was attacking younger people more than older people. It was going after people in their 20’s and 30’s, people who don’t usually die from flu,” said Sarah Piccini of the Lackawanna Historical Society.
“It was close to 1,000 people died in 3 months. In the Scranton area, grave diggers were behind, people would come to the cemetery but they would have to wait because the grave diggers were busy. Hospitals set up separate wards for the Spanish Flu and there were emergency hospitals set up as well. The Watres Armory was converted into an emergency hospital,” Sarah continued.
“Did they have the diagnostic abilities to determine actually what they were dealing with? What was the time frame on that? It seems to me with the coronavirus issue today is we’re developing testing for it. Like New York City is already established testing,” said Timothy Rowland, Lackawanna County Coroner.
“Shivering uncontrollably or having torn muscles or broken ribs from the force of coughing… they ended up with pneumonia that was so severe their entire bodies were turning blue and they couldn’t get enough oxygen,” added Piccini .
“Isolation procedures today are, I’m sure, way different than they were in 1918. I think the hospitals were fortunate here in Scranton. We have 3 hospitals in Scranton that are all capable of dealing with this, should isolation be necessary,” stated Rowland.
“Almost everything was shut down in Scranton. Schools were closed, churches were closed, theaters, dance halls, even bars. Which seems unbelievable. Any public space was closed for more than a month in the beginning of November to try to keep people from mixing. I know in Pennsylvania, Scranton had the 3rd highest death toll between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, ” concluded Sarah Piccini.
The so-called Spanish Flu infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide and caused the death of nearly 700, 000 US citizens. Of those, about 1,000 were Scranton residents.