As the country and the world deals with the coronavirus, many people have asked, how was Coronado affected by the last pandemic, 100 years ago? The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 was caused by an H1N1 virus thought to have come from an avian origin. The outbreak of World War I probably triggered another wave of the virus with troop movements. The epidemic infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide, killing 20 to 50 million people.
According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune referring to the 1918 pandemic, “The death toll in San Diego from the flu was 366, out of a population of about 75,000. That’s about 0.5 percent of the city. Today, that would amount to some 6,800 victims. Almost 5,000 others got sick with “the grip,” as it was sometimes known then.” [Wilkens, John. “The 1918 Flu Epidemic…”. San Diego Union-Tribune, March 15, 2020]
In a November 1914 article appearing in Coronado’s newspaper, The Strand, there was a semi-annual report of the local Board of Health. The board reported that “There has been but few cases of zymotic diseases in our city during the past year.” The article also provided citizens of Coronado reassurance by stating: “We hereto attach the health officer’s report. If read between the lines, it means that Coronado is, without exception, the healthiest city of which there is any record.” [The Strand, Vol. 3, No. 28, November 28, 1914].
So, with Coronado being the “healthiest city,” how was it affected four years later when the influenza pandemic began? In the December 21, 1918 newspaper, the health officer, Dr. R. Lorini, discussed the epidemic situation at that time. As of the date of his article, there were 12 influenza cases reported in San Diego including the Navy and Army bases, and the number of new cases was lessening. He thought that it was a “favorable view of local conditions.” [The Strand, Vol. 7, No. 32, December 21, 1918] However, other sources state that San Diego’s influenza cases skyrocketed much higher than the 12 cases that Dr. Lorini originally cited.
Coronado, like San Diego, did undergo a quarantine. Apparently, because of the closed businesses in San Diego, people were coming over the bay by ferry to purchase items. Coronado was afraid that the flu would spread from San Diego, so Coronado businesses were ordered to close as well. Under the article heading “The Flu Situation” in the December 14, 1918 newspaper, “Coronado suffered a touch of the quarantine last Saturday when restrictions similar to those in force in San Diego since the previous Thursday at midnight went into effect. Marshal O’Donnell, acting under instructions from the Health Officer, notified all business houses, except those handling the necessaries of life to close Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and this request was obeyed.”
The military bases, including the base at North Island, also went into quarantine. There was speculation that the virus was introduced into San Diego by someone at the Navy training facility, which was housed in Balboa Park back then. In September 1918, the infected soldiers and the base at Balboa Park were put into quarantine. The Army camp, Camp Kearny, was the next military post to notice influenza among its ranks and was quickly quarantined. Shortly after, Fort Rosecrans and North Island were put into quarantine. [Petersen, Richard. “The Spanish Influenza Epidemic in San Diego, 1918-1919”. Southern California Quarterly 71, Spring 1989, pp. 89-105.]
This series will be continued.