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Dave Bonner

100 Years Ago, Powell Suffered Through Spanish Flu Pandemic

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By Dave Bonner, Powell Tribune

This isn’t the first time local schools were closed and public gatherings banned in a public health defense against a deadly pandemic.

Some 100 years ago — when Powell was barely 10 years old — many of the same preventive methods in place today in the fight against COVID-19 were employed in the fall of 1918 across Wyoming in an attempt to keep the Spanish influenza at bay.

At the same time that World War I raged in Europe, the “Spanish flu” proved to be a deadly foe. Before it was beaten, Spanish influenza infected 500 million people in the world and cost 50 million lives. In the United States, 675,000 people died. Wyoming suffered more than 700 deaths in the pandemic, which appears to have been far deadlier than the current outbreak of COVID-19.

Historians and medical researchers believe the 1918 disease had a mortality rate of around 2.5%. While it remains early in this pandemic, a Monday paper published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases estimated COVID-19’s overall fatality rate at around 1.38% among confirmed cases and 0.66% overall, according to a summary of the paper compiled by WebMD.com. For comparison, the seasonal flu typically has a death rate of around 0.1%.

The Spanish flu came in three waves worldwide, historian Phil Roberts wrote for WyomingHistory.org, a project of the Wyoming State Historical Society.

“The first, in the spring and early summer of 1918, was relatively mild,” Roberts wrote. “The second, beginning in summer and gaining vast momentum in the fall, was far deadlier. A third wave, in the winter and spring of 1919, was less lethal than the second, but still dangerous.”

The Spanish influenza was first imprinted on the psyche of Powell residents when public schools were closed in early October of 1918, shortly after the start of the school year. State and local health officials decided to take the action to limit the spread of the disease after several outbreaks in other regions of the country.

The closure order came from the state board of health with the dictate that schools would not re-open “until all danger from the contagion has passed.” Additionally, public gatherings were to be discontinued and places of public amusement closed.

The closure was put in dollars and cents terms in an appeal for public compliance by then school superintendent, S.N. Erwin.

“The schools are costing the district almost [$150] a day, even when they are closed,” he was quoted in the Powell Tribune of Oct. 11, 1918. “We must, then, make this period of quarantine as short as possible. Parents should see that their children are kept at home, especially should they be kept off the streets. If this is not done, almost all of the advantages of the quarantine will be lost. It seems that the parents who do not keep their children off the streets and at home are entirely disregarding the interests of the community.”

For a time, the “social distancing” of that day seemed to be working. In fact, a headline in the Powell Tribune of Oct. 18 declared tentatively, “Powell relatively free from influenza.” Right next door, Cody was another story. 

“While Powell and vicinity have so far escaped without a fatality, and in fact very few, if any serious cases having appeared, other parts of the county have not been so fortunate,” the Tribune reported. “Four deaths have so far occurred at Cody, among sixty cases of the epidemic. The death last Sunday of Fred Garlow, proprietor of the Irma Hotel, was followed on Wednesday by the death of Mrs. Garlow, both victims of the dreaded malady.”

There was even a hopeful ring to the Oct. 25 headline in the Tribune, EPIDEMIC NOW UNDER CONTROL.

“Reports from nearby towns would indicate that the influenza is subsiding and the disease is thought to be under control,” the Tribune reported. “Three more deaths are reported at Cody, making seven in all, but no deaths there since Monday and the conditions at the county seat are said to be improving.”

Still, the Powell school board cautiously extended the school closure into a fifth week. 

“The Powell community has thus far escaped the ravages of the ‘flu’ and the general sentiment seems to be that to raise the quarantine now would be to invite the danger of a visitation of the disease which everyone in the community is anxious to avoid if possible,” the Tribune reasoned on Nov. 1.

There was good news with the end of World War I hostilities a week later, but no end to the flu quarantine. In fact, the Powell Tribune of Nov. 22 recorded even stricter quarantine rules issued by the town council. The post office lobby was closed for two hours at mid-day. Stores could remain open for business, but it became unlawful for anyone to be in a store except to transact business. And children were required to stay home.

The town council stated flatly “an emergency exists.”

Quarantine regulations made it unlawful for parents to allow their children “to congregate or play with other children in this town, or allow or permit them to congregate or play on the streets or property within town except on the premises where they live.”

As November drew to a close, the Powell Tribune still expressed hope the quarantine was doing its job.

“According to the report of our local health authorities this morning, there are now only about a dozen cases of influenza in Powell, and as none of the patients are seriously ill, it is taken as a hopeful sign that the situation is improving,” the Tribune reported on Nov. 29.

But it was not to be. Nor would there be public festivities for Christmas. For many Powell homes there was profound grief and gloom during the Christmas season. According to research by Park County Archives Curator Brian Beauvais, 187 cases of the flu were reported in Powell that December, on the heels of 89 cases in November.

The Powell Tribune of Dec. 20, 1918, proclaimed the Spanish influenza at a crisis point, with a dozen deaths in Powell in the preceding week. The Tribune’s intonation was indeed somber: “New cases are developing each day, and before the epidemic has left us we predict that there will be few families that will be able to claim immunity from the disease.”

The new year brought with it some sense of relief. Local health authorities assessed Powell almost completely free of the influenza, and Powell schools reopened on Jan. 20, 1919, with a new school nurse on staff (salary $100 per month). “Country schools” at Garland, Ralston, Starr and Fairview had successfully reopened on Jan. 6, 1919.

At the same time, the Tribune reported there was enough concern for the influenza and pneumonia lingering in Park County that a ban on dancing — both public and private — remained in place, “as dances have proven one of the most prolific sources of the contagion.”

Dave Bonner: Thank You, Doctors, For Plain Talk

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By Dave Bonner, Powell Tribune

Don’t let the low numbers for known cases of coronavirus in Wyoming and Park County lull you into complacency and any false sense of security.

That’s the message of plain talk opinion pieces in this newspaper today, and last week, offered to the community by direct primary care physicians Dean Bartholomew and Mike Tracy of 307Health in Powell.

The numbers are low but those figures don’t tell a complete story. That’s because the Wyoming Department of Health has not yet conducted widespread testing in the state. When you don’t test, the number of identified cases doesn’t go up.

That should not be taken, Dr. Tracy writes, as an indication that COVID-19 is not in our communities. He and other physicians know the virus spreads quietly and that if we had more testing, we’d have a more realistic picture of what’s going on.

Dr. Aaron Billin, the Park County health officer, has been tirelessly driving home the same points in interviews, emails, public notices and posts to social media. He’s been working seemingly around the clock to help inform and protect our community, stressing the importance of social distancing. 

Dr. Billin has been cheered to have several days go by with no new confirmed cases in Park County — and he thinks the dramatic changes that residents and businesses have made to their daily routines are making a difference. But we’re by no means out of the woods.

Arizona Bowl was Wyoming Triumph, but also for Tuscon Local Charities

in Column/Dave Bonner/sports
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By Dave Bonner, Powell Tribune

So it isn’t an ESPN bowl game.

That didn’t matter to fans of the University Wyoming and Georgia State University football teams who squared off Dec. 31 in the Arizona Bowl at Tucson.  And it sure isn’t a big deal to the folks who own, promote and produce the Arizona Bowl.

In fact, it’s by design. You can add a couple of exclamation points to that statement.

Of the 40 bowl games played this year, only two were not televised and controlled by ESPN/ABC, Fox Sports and CBS.

The Tucson Bowl was one of them. It was televised nationally by CBS Sports Network, a step down from the big names in sports broadcasting (61 million households vs. 86 million households for ESPN).  

The key is the matter of control.  To Tucson attorney Ali Farhang, the brains and the face behind the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, it’s everything.  He is the principal founder of the Arizona Bowl and the chairman of the board of the group which owns the bowl, now in its fifth year. 

He and his founding partners are insistent that the Arizona Bowl is a community-driven event. That’s one way of saying that bowl decisions will serve Tucson’s interest, not national TV programming.

That starts with game day scheduling and start time. An afternoon kickoff for the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve is non-negotiable.

Tucson weather delivered for the Arizona Bowl last week. Fans basked under bright sun and a temperature of 62 degrees for the 2:30 p.m. game. 

Tim Medcoff, a law partner with Farhang who is also intimately involved in the Arizona Bowl, said the vision for the bowl grew out of a desire to remove “kind a black cloud over Tucson from days gone by.” He referred to the fact that Tucson in recent years had lost the Copper Bowl, MLB spring training,  PGA and LPGA tour events.

The road back, in the collective mind of Farhang and colleagues, was to look inward.

“Ali’s all about promoting everything that’s great about Tucson,” Medcoff said. “That includes the sunny weather of southern Arizona, the Air Force and military presence, the hospitality of the area and the great non-profits — the people who care about making others’ lives better.”

The economic impact in the area from a successful bowl game is, of course, a big deal. But giving  back to the community is not simply lip service either. The NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl is one of a kind in donating all bowl proceeds to non-profits in the community.

“We do everything we can to make things better for Tucson,” Medcoff said. “We want to give back.”

And for the record, the Tucson Bowl is happy to have the CBS Sports Network as a partner.

“They told us they support everything we’re doing,” Medcoff said.

Final numbers have not been tabulated, but game producers expect that up to $400,000 in cash will be generated for non-profits of the community.  That’s net proceeds from ticket sales and concessions.

Wyoming did its part. The Cowboys scored a 38-17 win over Georgia State of the Sun Belt Conference on the field, but that’s not all. Some 10,000 Brown and Gold clad fans helped propel Tucson Bowl beer sales to a new record.

Kym Adair, who pulls most of the levers in making bowl operations go, said she was excited by the strong showing of Wyoming fans that pushed bowl game attendance to 36,892.

She should be.

Sales of cold ones broke the previous bowl game record by $100,000. If you’re counting, that record $100,000 translates into 14,285 more of the 16-ounce drafts sold at $7 each than in any previous year.  

A new official Arizona Bowl Brew was introduced at the game, a product of the local Barrio Brewing Co. Wyoming fans gave it a big thumbs up.

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