A look back at how Buffalo handled the 1918 influenza pandemic

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Public officials are instituting many of the same policies that were put into place in 1918, as a deadly influenza pandemic spread across the world, according to a University at Buffalo professor who has studied that case.

Dr. Shauna Zorich, a clinical assistant professor in U.B.’s School of Public Health and Health Professions says about 3,000 people in Buffalo died after contracting influenza and pneumonia in 1918.

“But I think what we have to recognize is that number would have been higher had Buffalo not taken the actions it had taken at that time,” Zorich said.

Many of those actions sound familiar to those closely following the coronavirus disease now spreading across Western New York, New York State, the United States, and the world.

“The (influenza) pandemic hit Buffalo in October 1918,” Zorich said. “When this occurred, the Mayor of Buffalo at the time issued a proclamation that restricted assembly of 10 or more individuals. This, in effect, closed schools, closed churches, and also a number of recreational facilities.”

But there was something else happening in 1918, which greatly impacted how Buffalo and the world handled the public health crisis of the time: World War I.

“There wasn’t enough medical personnel at home in Buffalo to care for the sick because many of those personnel were deployed overseas to hep with the war effort,” Zorich said. “What Buffalo did was they called upon sophomore, junior, and senior medical students to help take care of the sick.”

Rep. Brian Higgins pointed out the 1918 pandemic shows that we need to be prepared for anything today.

“There were three waves of that,” Higgins said. “It occurred initially. It occurred again later this year. Then, when the weather got cool again, we had another wave of it.

“We don’t know enough about this.”

“We always have to be prepared,” Zorich added. “The preparedness phase has to be continual. We always have to be ready to respond to a pandemic.”

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