The COVID-19 pandemic is being compared to the Spanish Flu Pandemic that our ancestors experienced 102 years ago in 1918. This has been a popular research topic of the Fayette County Genealogical Society.
One of the of the main topics during COVID-19 has been the wearing of masks, and it was quite a topic in 1918 as well. Masks were worn during the Spanish Flu Pandemic, but were not believed to very effective in preventing the spread of the virus causing the flu. However, we have learned some important lessons about the making and wearing of masks from what our ancestors experienced in 1918 and in the years since. In an article by Adrien Burch, PHD entitled “Why Gauze Masks ‘Failed’ in 1918-And What We Can Do Better,” Dr. Burch outlines what we have learned.
First, homemade masks were made of gauze and the gauze was a coarse cheesecloth type, not a fine weave. Plus, the masks were only one or two layers of this coarse cheesecloth gauze instead of the recommended five to six layers of fine gauze. Second, these shoddy masks gave our ancestors a false sense of security and they took more risks. They didn’t social distance themselves or clean as they probably should have. Third, although the boards of health posted fliers instructing people how to wear a mask, people often wore their masks incorrectly, sometimes covering only their mouth and not their nose, and constantly touching their faces.
Number four on Dr. Burch’s list of 1918 failures with masks was the fact that people didn’t always wear them at the right times. Many people wore them when they were outdoors and in open public places, but not in places of work indoors, in stores, or gatherings of friends where the wearing of masks was most needed. Number five and last on the doctor’s list is the material, the gauze even if it would have been the finer kind, was not a good material to make the masks. It has been found that gauze is not sufficient in filtering out the respiratory droplets that can pass the virus from one person to another.
We now have better material such as cotton fabric to make our layered masks and the masks can be quite stylish and they are washable. We know to wash our hands and clean surfaces often, to combine social distancing along with wearing masks in work places, stores, and anywhere there are other people. We have the benefit of many forms of media to keep us informed as to how, when and where to wear our masks that was not available to our ancestors of 1918. We have learned much since 1918 to effectively wear masks. We know that it is not any one thing alone that will help prevent the spread of the virus but a combination of all these safe guards. As far as masks are concerned just remember: “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.”
There will be no meeting of the Fayette County Genealogical Society on Monday, June 15 due to the present pandemic. You can obtain assistance from the Society with research, family trees, and lineage projects by contacting Research Chair Peggy Lester at 740-495-5720 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Lineage Chair Cathy Massie White at 740-333-7227 or ReunionMassie@yahoo.com, or President Sue Gilmore at 614-864-9609 or email@example.com.
If you would like addition information concerning the society, membership, or the Society’s Lineage Societies, contact Cathy Massie White as listed above.