More Mask Material

By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.

The debate has not stopped. The “data” keeps coming out. The “spikes” do what they do. And, this China Virus is not going away any time soon. I started reading about pandemics around January 30th, when I published my first article on them. And, there I briefly mentioned the then-almost-unheard-of “corona virus.” I have not stopped reading since.

I noted John M. Barry’s landmark work, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (Penguin Books, 2004). This book was hailed immediately upon its release. Upon the news of the “spread” in Europe, Doctors, much like today, interpreted it as everything from “don’t worry” to what amounted as a need for “ruthless measures” – basically a call to grind to a halt social activity. And….there were the “masks.”


Joseph A. Capps was an M.D. He was working on an “innovation” called the gauze mask (211, op. cit.). Capps was encouraged to write a research paper on the invention by Preston Kyes. Capps did. In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), August 10th, 1918 Capps article appeared (‘Measures for the Prevention and Control of Respiratory Infections in Military Camps’). With some tracking down, I found that very article (Barry gives the wrong page numbers, but the correct Issue of JAMA – which are Aug. 10th, 1918, Volume 71, No. 6, pp. 448-451). After listing several diseases communicated through “secretions of the nose and throat” and thus, “Talking, coughing, and sneezing force a fine spray of mucus and bacteria into the air which may directly infect another person and which contaminates clothes, bedding and furniture.” “Crowding…facilitates the transmission of these infections and explains their rapid spread in army camps.” Capps noted how the mask was used in the Durand Hospital by surgeons, and refers to another article in JAMA by G. H. Weaver. Yes, I am mentally unbalanced when it comes to research, so I looked that up, too (I recently tracked down the location of the Holiday Inn Jimi Hendrix stayed in for his March 27th show in Muncie, Indiana, 1968 – the Delaware County Fairgrounds – blog coming later on that adventure!). Capps, after referring to that article (January 12th, 1918, Vol. 70, No. 2, p.76 of JAMA), stated, “…the face masks for patients has never been practiced.”

They started the “experiment” at Camp Grant, which is now the location of Seth Atwood Park in Rockford, Illinois. It was where the whole “mask” thing began, although it is not “known” for that (until now – I might be the first to note its historical importance in terms of the “history of the mask” because this was not Barry’s focus). Now, the patients were ordered (they were military folks) to wear the masks at all times upon entrance into the medical facility. Smoking was banned because that required taking off the mask. All items touched by the patient were sterilized – single use required immediate sterilization of anything touched. Ruthless measures. A guard stood by for sections of the patients and watched their every move so as to note anything that had been touched or handled.

Now, keep in mind the dates here. This issue of JAMA is August. Capps began his “experiment” in January-June 1, 1918. Between September 23rd and October 1st, 1918 – 4000 troops were infected with Spanish Influenza. 1000 died. The camp was overran. Barry continues to recount the horror – with every stringent method applied, “It did little good” (213, Barry). From that Camp, thousands of soldiers left for Camp Hancock in Georgia. The problem: asymptomatic profile. The latter part of 1918 and coming into 1919 was a sheer nightmare for Americans everywhere. Schools closed. Businesses closed. The most recent studies of estimation is that between 550,000 – 675,000 Americans, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, black, brown or white, men and women, girls and boys died (incidentally, “race” was never touted as a factor or a blame as some are attempting to use that today -but we have become more stupid, too). The US population at that time was 105,000,000 (397, Barry). A “comparable figure” today with a world population of 7-8 billion would be about 80,000,000 deaths. Today’s “guestimation” by the experts hypothesized in Barry’s well researched book that was written in 2004 (and hailed by JAMA) stated that “if a new influenza virus” came along it would infect several hundred million, possible over a billion. The Center for Disease Control estimated that within the US, “40 and 100 million sick.” (450, Barry). That’s with all that we know. So far, we have not touched those numbers.

But, back to the masks. In the article cited by Capps above, ‘The Value of the Face Mask and Other Measures of Prevention of Diphtheria, Meningitis, Pneumonia, etc.,’ by George H. Weaver of Chicago (Durand Hospital), we find several interesting facts. Oh, by the way, in Chicago, “Churches were left off the list for the time being, since no religious services would be held for at least three more days. In the end, Chicago churches were not required to close, although clergy were asked to keep services short and their buildings well ventilated” (Article). From June 1, 1916 “the practice of wearing gauze masks covering the nose and mouth” began, reports Weaver. Masks were worn “once” until washed and sterilized. Any sign of moisture on the mask caused for immediate replacement. Any time an infected patient was cared for directly while wearing a mask (nurses), upon completion of whatever care, the mask was replaced. It was never used throughout the day, all day (seems to be just plain old common sense, eh?). Under these very strict conditions, certain supposed infections which nurses would contract routinely from patients before the implementation of masks, “almost disappeared”. So, what happened? The pandemic hit hard in the Fall of 1918 in Illinois.

Before I conclude, Barry strikes a few more lines concerning the nature of a virus (he called it a hunter on a mission; a bug that is as determined to get into a host system as a squirrel is to get into a bird feeder – it eventually succeeds).

Page scan of sequence 30
One of the earliest articles I could find on the construction of what is now the common mask, JAMA, April 6, 1918

Barry notes the utter chaos that ensued in the Fall of 1918 at Camp Grant. Each patient and the staff were all masked and sterilization was in place. Still, the numbers of infection and deaths rose shockingly. “It wasn’t enough” (Barry, 214). After noting that “public trust” in the Medical Profession (mainly through AMA and its still respected publication, JAMA) was only recently established (remember, this is 1918 – decades before “scientific” advancements were just coming into focus in medicine whereas before, what was called “quackery” or “medicine voodoo”). Medicine was supposed to be the “cure all”. That fell apart. “The masks worn by millions were useless as designed and could not prevent influenza. Only preventing exposure to the virus could” (Barry, 358-359). There were three “waves” of the Influenza killer from 1918-1919. San Francisco fared well in the second wave. A newspaper ad read, “Wear a mask and save your life”, adding that it was “99% proof against” the virus (Barry, 374-375). The Red Cross gave out 100,000 masks. San Franciscans were celebrating in the Fall of 1918 that they had ridden the wave and come out relatively unharmed. They took every precaution. “They were the mistaken. The masks were useless….the city had simply been lucky. Two weeks later, the third wave struck” (Barry, 375). It was, after all was said and done, the epicenter for one of the highest death rates in the US. Needless to say, “The overwhelming majority of victims, especially in the Western world, recovered quickly and fully” (Barry, 378).

So. What now? How long with this new corona virus do its thing? The one thing that appears missing from Barry’s marvelous book (reminding you again that it was written in 2004) is that during the 1918-19 plague, politics did not really play a hand. Neither did “race.” No one was “blaming” the current administration (Woodrow Wilson, who largely did not “respond” in any overhauling measure – dealing with the tail end of World War 1 in November, 1918). What would become the Eighteenth Amendment, the prohibition of alcohol, was fiercely debated from 1917 to January of 1919 in Washington and abroad. A year later, 1920, booze was illegal. A world war, an Amendment, and women on the verge of voting (1920). The ant-prohibitionists were the “evil” of society for a time. “Convince the majority that they faced wicked people and the miscreants rights disappear” (Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History, James A. Morone, Yale University Press, 2003, p. 316). The “majority” and the “wicked people” ebb and flow with the issue always being a morality that is in the hands of whatever tasty wave happens to be in full swell and curl. “Moralizing politics rolls right over the liberal limits…what counts for evil? The answer is contested, changing and constantly up for political grabs. Moral politics in the United State is hotheaded and unstable” (ibid., 317). That’s how things work because morals cannot be dictated by the Paternal State, as everyone would say in their own way: except for my own times when the Paternal State happens to be dictating my morals with which I agree. And one cannot say, “well, the law says.” If America has shown anything it has shown this: laws change. And, yet, Americans got through it (and women got to vote). Provided that God in his Grace steers us through his wrathful displeasure and gives us yet another reprieve in his patience – to either go on sinning, or fall on the knees in worship – we will make it out of this. Mask or no mask. Republican or Democrat. Liberalism and Leftist ideology, or biblical politics. The fight continues. The dying will die. And the living will have to manage when we look back on this year and wonder, what the hell was that? Right now we are engaged in a culture that views the President as Doctor, Scientist, Theologian, and Global Healer and Chief. That wasn’t the case in Wilson’s day. Thus, we have accepted something in the air that has changed our perspective on “what’s the Government supposed to do” about my condition and problems. What may happen is that we will get a Government that says this: This is what you will do. You have no choice. Let us wait upon the Lord to see what He will bring us.

….By the way, I still don’t wear a mask.