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Pandemic Historian Says Masks Aren't New And They Worked In 1918

Library and Archives Canada, PA-025025
Men wearing masks during the Spanish influenza epidemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the way we live, but it’s not the first time this has happened in our culture. Throughout our history, pandemics have had an enormous impact on society and how we’re able to live. Many have drawn parallels to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. 

Anne Dressel is the director of UWM's Center for Global Health Equity, and she’s one of the presenters in an upcoming webinar all about understanding pandemics. 

“There were similar control measures in place both during the 1918 flu pandemic and today. Things like quarantining, social distancing, limiting public gatherings, advice about washing your hands and practicing good hygiene, but also mask mandates and just like today, in 1918 during the pandemic, there was a lot of resistance to wearing masks even though science shows it can help to reduce the spread of disease,” says Dressel.

She says cities where mask-wearing was prevalent saw much better health outcomes in 1918 than cities where mask protesting was present. 

Dressel says history tells us that the COVID-19 pandemic won't last forever but that everyone needs to continue to follow health guidelines like wearing a mask and limiting gatherings.

Registration for the Oct. 23 webinar is still open and free to the public.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.