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Idaho Passes a Grim Milestone
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Idaho has lost more souls to COVID than to World War II.
 
 
Saturday, January 2, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Idaho surpassed a grim milestone as it entered the New Year. The state has now recorded 1,436 deaths from COVID.

That’s more in 9.5 months than the 1,419 casualties Idaho recorded during all four years of World War II.

Blaine County lost eight people to World War II. The county has lost 13 residents to COVID—one of them coming on New Year’s Eve.

“Losses from conflict during WWII were only exceeded by fatalities during the Civil War, which recorded the greatest loss of American lives (620,000) in the history of our country,” said Paul Ries, The Eye’s COVID graph analyst.  “Idaho recorded no Civil War losses as it was not yet a state.” 

We can only hope that Idaho will not match the number of deaths attributed to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. No one knows for sure how many Idahoans died from the flu because doctors often said their patients had pneumonia instead of the flu so they didn’t have to quarantine.

But retired Idaho public health official Dr. Ginger Floerchinger-Franks, who has been researching the subject for a book, believes 2,397 Idahoans may have died over a three-year period as the state was hit with one wave, then a second, then a third.

A nurse tending troops in Europe was the first Idahoan to die of the Spanish flu. It did not reach Idaho until late September 1918. The first cases were reported in Canyon County. By late October, Boise,  Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Twin Falls were reporting cases.

Ninety-five thousand of the 431,866 Idahoans who inhabited the state at that time are believed to have contracted the flu. That’s 22 percent of the population.

And, just as a parade in Philadelphia is believed to have more than 4,500 people, it’s believed that a 1918 Armistice Day parade in Boise may have been a super spreader event. More than 10,000 people turned out for the parade, only one wearing a face mask, according to The Idaho Statesman.

Paris in southeastern Idaho suffered a 50 percent mortality rate. Half of the population of Nez Perce in northern Idaho, population 677, got it and 18 died. In Franklin County 1,300 of the county’s 7,500 residents were sickened and 31 died.

No one knows how many Wood River Valley residents died of the flu, although that is noted as the cause of death on some headstones in the Hailey Cemetery.

To keep it at bay, Wood River Valley residents were forbidden to spit in the streets under threat of fine or even imprisonment. Those who owned phones were told to cover the mouthpieces during use so germs couldn’t spread through the wires,

Challis posted armed guards at city limits to keep hunters and others from entering, while Twin Falls closed schools, churches and theaters, forbade people to loaf in public places and fumigated public telephones daily.

The Wood River Daily Times warned readers to keep the body well clothed, burn rags or tissue on which secretions land anb fill a 5-pound lard bucket with water and boil it 24 hours a day, adding a teaspoon of carbolic acid periodically. It also suggested that readers should gargle Benitol and baking soda and then spray the nose with a solution of it every time someone comes to the door.

“And in all cases keep the bowels in good free action,” the newspaper advised.

The Spanish flu went on to infect 28 percent of the United States’ 105 million population, killing between 500,000 and 675,000. It was believed to have killed between 17 million and 50 million people worldwide in the days before antibiotics and other medical marvels were invented that the world has been able to put to use during the current pandemic.

The United States surpassed 20 million confirmed coronavirus cases on New Year’s Day—a quarter of all cases worldwide. More than 346,000 Americans have died of COVID.

That’s about half of the 675,000 Americans who have died of HIV/AIDS since 1981. But only 40,000 deaths were reported during a single year at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1995.

 

 

 

 

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