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Flu Restrictions Return

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Communities closed down when the flu pandemic struck North Dakota in the fall of 1918. But the length of restrictions on schools, churches, theaters and public gatherings differed. Fargo’s lockdown lasted about three weeks. Bismarck’s restrictions lasted a month. Grand Forks reopened after seven weeks, and Minot’s restrictions ended after eight weeks, one of the longest closings in the state.

The so-called “Spanish flu” hit hard that fall, but it didn’t just go away after a few weeks. The pandemic lingered into 1920, and led to more restrictions beyond the initial closures.

In early December of 1918 in Milton, North Dakota, health authorities banned public gatherings after two people died from the flu soon after schools had reopened and public services resumed. The Courier Democrat newspaper in Langdon reported: “Other towns can take warning and go slow in urging the local health officers to let up on the enforced regulations.”

At the same time in Washburn, North Dakota, schools closed for a second time, one week after reopening. The Bismarck Tribune reported “some new cases broke out,” and the Washburn school board “decided to let the epidemic run its course before opening school again.” Washburn’s second school closure lasted two weeks, and would push the school year into July.

More than a month after Fargo’s initial restrictions lifted, the city health officer clamped down again, restricting theaters to 50 percent capacity, and then closed them indefinitely because they failed to comply. On this date in 1918, Fargo’s City Commission held a special meeting at the request of theater owners, who called the order discriminatory. One theater owner said: “The poorest ventilated theater in Fargo is better ventilated than the best ventilated department store. The theater owners are not asking favors, but a square deal.”

On the same day, Fargo’s health officer amended his orders, now restricting theaters, churches, department stores, pool halls, soda fountains and other businesses to 70 percent capacity, with the threat of closure if they failed to comply. Schools were exempt. The order was to remain in force “until influenza has been stamped out in Fargo.” The city commission unanimously supported the new order, which was enforced by special officers cooperating with police.

Other orders remained in effect in Fargo for isolating flu patients – keeping them away from public places and gatherings.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, October 9. Pages 1, 7, 8

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, October 30. Pages 1, 2

The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, December 5. Page 8

The Ward County Independent. 1918, December 5. Page 1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, December 6. Page 6

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, December 9. Page 1

Grand Forks Herald. 1918, December 9. Page 3

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, December 10. Page 7

Courier Democrat. 1918, December 12. Page 1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, December 18. Page 11

The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, December 19. Page 1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, December 21. Page 1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1918, December 31. Page 8

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