Denver residents protested a face mask order in 1918

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DENVER (KDVR) — It turns out this isn’t the first time Coloradans have been split on a mask order. In 1918, when Denver’s mayor put one in place during the Spanish Flu, residents routinely refused to wear them.

“Denver was one of a handful of communities in the United States that issued a mandatory mask order in the fall of 1918,” said J. Alexander Navarro.

Navarro is the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and is an expert on Denver’s response to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

According to Navarro, business and school closures went into effect before the face mask order did.

“In Denver, those orders (closures) were removed right on Armistice Day, on November 11, 1918, which signaled the end of World War I,” Navarro explained. “Everyone flocked to downtown and congregated and about half the cities we studied – the epidemics weren’t through yet – and there was a resurgence of cases and death.”

Denver’s mayor at the time tried to implement a second round of closures, but his proposal was met with resistance from local business owners.

Instead, the mayor decided to implement a mask order.

“That was met with widespread opposition. People were arrested even though there was a fine up to $200,” Navarro said. “And eventually the city ended up watering down the mask order until the point where it was useless because they couldn’t get widespread compliance.”

Navarro is hoping people now will learn from our past and consider wearing a mask.

“This is not an individual fight; we all need to do this together for good public health outcomes,” Navarro said.

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