Few of us remember that we have seen a very deadly outbreak before. How did Aquidneck Island cope with what was called the “Spanish Flu?”  Newspaper accounts give us an idea of what things were like. There are many parallels between what we are experiencing now and what they experienced over a hundred years ago.

By Fall of 1919 public health officials had learned some lessons. This is the advice given in a September 27, 1919 Newport Mercury article.

“People who have influenza symptoms should not be kept on at work the way they did last fall, thus spreading the fatal scourge all over the county. It was shown that a person having the disease mildly might communicate it to others who would have it severely and die therefrom. People who have even a slight case have no right to endanger the lives of others by venturing out in the public. They will be far safer themselves by remaining at home, and caution on their part will save the community from great peril.”

The September 27, 1918 Mercury had more healthy tips. “Live a simple life, do not over-eat, be sure to keep your house well ventilated with keeping room windows wide open. Be careful not to cough or sneeze in a public place, if you must, then always use the protecting handkerchief…. It is hopeful that many are predicting a short-lived outbreak and that the worst is over, but the real serious epidemics of this disease in the past do not warrant such a conclusion.”

We know from articles in November of 1918 that churches were closed because of the influenza.

The Newport Mercury would weekly list the influenza patients and how they were doing.

Newport Mercury September 28, 1918: “William A. Smith and Allen Smith, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Smith who have been ill with Spanish influenza, are recovering slowly. Mrs. William F. Grinnell and son Albert, who have also been suffering with it, are able to be up. Joseph Rose is serious ill with the same complaint. Mr. Charles Almy, who has been very ill, is recovering.”

There were also too many death notices. Some of those notices showed the place of death being Emergency Hospital in Newport. The overload at Newport Hospital was so great that a separate hospital was opened up.

From Newport Mercury on Oct. 5, 1918: “The conditions Friday morning seemed a little improved, as few cases had been reported during the preceding day, and the number of deaths in the city had also been reduced. The city emergency hospital on Maple Avenue was opened on Friday, with two nurses in attendance. Two wards were opened at first, as it was hoped that this might be sufficient. Great difficulty was experienced in securing nurses.” By November the 9th the Emergency Hospital was closed. Newport officials authorized a thousand dollars to pay for the expenses of the Emergency Hospital and bills from the flu emergency.

An article in the Newport Mercury on Oct.4, 1918 gives us some interesting insights. The article was hopeful that the cases of the influenza had reached the peak in Newport. On Monday there had been 222 reported, but by Tuesday the number had dropped to 160. The death rate would not go down so quickly. Deaths usually came days after beginning of the disease, so more deaths would come. The article urged the readers to continue being careful. “We cannot let up with precautions and cannot lift bans. Daily inquiries about if one can hold this or that gathering are simply a waste of effort and the authorities are too busy to answer these questions.” Most of the normal entertainments were banned.