Los Angeles leaders did not wait for the infection to arrive. With reports of infections overwhelming eastern cities, officials banned public gatherings. Their goal was to minimize the spread of disease while avoiding panic.
In 1918, the Los Angeles Times editorial staff hoped to ease the tension and reminded readers, “Do not be rattled. It is good to remember soberly at this time that fear kills almost as many people each year as disease. ”
For Juan Rincon, fear proved to be more dangerous than the disease itself.
Rincon, a fishmonger in Boyle Heights, received a call from his friend Eva Costello on October 1
Costello searched for a doctor – only to return to Rincon’s home to find him lying in a pool of blood with a revolver in his hand. Investigators reported that Rincon had chosen to end his own life instead of losing it due to the flu.
After the first wave of the flu pandemic in the spring, another, more deadly wave had been born in the ports of Boston in the fall. Unlike the first wave, this new tribe hit young adults, and outbreaks could no longer be limited to the country’s military camps.
In early October – with only 55 cases of influenza reported throughout Los Angeles – city health officials reduced the severity of the disease on the West Coast. The head of the National Association of Motion Picture Industries called for a halt to all film releases after Oct. 15 due to the pandemic, but industry insiders closer to Hollywood felt differently.
“The flu situation is not as serious here as in the East,” Tallys Broadway Theater owner TL Tally told the Times, “but should local health authorities ask picture houses to close, I’m sure the officials would do anything the officials want. . ”
Meanwhile, health officials in the city faced pressure in connection with an upcoming mass rally aimed at raising funds to support the war effort. With only nine days left to reach its quota, Los Angeles was $ 27 million behind in its collection of Liberty Loan. The upcoming Liberty Day party was intended to bridge this gap – even if it would condemn the city to a deadly eruption.
City leaders met on Oct. 10 and made the tough decision to postpone Liberty Day events and close all schools, churches and entertainment venues. This included the city’s 83 cinemas.
“It is certain that sooner or later we will be forced to ban public gatherings. Therefore, it is the best assessment to do so immediately, if we can eradicate the disease in a few days, “said Los Angeles Mayor Frederick Woodman. “By action from the health department, we can be saved countless losses in life and endless discomfort.”
(In fact, Philadelphia’s refusal to cancel its Liberty Loan parade in late September led to 1,000 deaths in 10 days, making the city one of the pandemic’s hardest hit.)
Despite the lack of public fundraising events, Los Angeles managed to rally in the last minutes and exceed its Liberty Loan target by an estimated $ 3.5 million.
With 307 cases of new infections reported across the city, John Cawley, Chancellor of the Diocese of Los Angeles, issued a statement to all Catholics stating that no services would be held: “People are encouraged to pray in their own homes to Almighty God remove the epidemic that is currently threatening society so severely. ”
Not everyone respected the new health precautions.
In Los Angeles, where theater is a religion and religion is theater, these two groups included the city’s highest critics of the shutter order. According to N. Pieter M. O’Leary, who wrote to Southern California quarterly, “The loudest opponent of the partial closure law was the Los Angeles Theater Owners’ Association,” which “repeatedly petitioned the city council to repeal the partial closure law.”
The association’s president estimated that local theaters had lost $ 1 million in revenue after the city’s order to close took effect.
When the Los Angeles City Council discussed theater owners, a local congregation of Christian scholars defied the city’s mandate and tried to reopen worship services in early November. This led to police interrupting ceremonies and arresting four church leaders as 500 conglomerates crowded outside the house of worship.
Fortunately for the people of Los Angeles, these two groups were the only major organizations that were openly opposed to the city’s efforts to limit the spread of infection. Restrictions were lifted across the city on December 3rd.
San Francisco, which had taken a much more relaxed approach to pandemic protocols, was forced to impose a full masking order the month before, leading to an avalanche of public opposition. With a healthy dose of caution balanced by restraint, Los Angeles successfully navigated the second and deadly wave of the 1918 flu.
“The prompt response from Los Angeles City officials to initiate measures to curb the spread of influenza viruses saved the city from the astronomical infection rates experienced in San Francisco,” O’Leary wrote to Southern California on a quarterly basis. “Acting on October 11 to invoke a partial closure ban combined with public acceptance and the lucky late schedule of Liberty Loan Drive, the city was able to avert the crisis.”