The most fatal influenza pandemic in history—an outbreak that killed at least 20 million people worldwide, including 1,500 in Denver—arrived here 100 years ago this month. The subsequent mass hysteria bred some not-so-rational responses, which got us wondering about how regulators and residents would react if a similar outbreak took place in the Mile High City today. Our prediction: in equally bizarre ways, but with a decidedly New Denver twist.
In 1918: City officials temporarily shutter schools, churches, clubs, lodges, dance halls, movie houses, and many other places of public assembly.
In 2018: Mayor Michael Hancock temporarily shutters schools, churches, nightclubs, run clubs, #brunch, craft breweries, and the 16th Street Mall.
Mask is the New Black
In 1918: The city manager of health and charity and the mayor require residents to wear face masks in most public spaces.
In 2018: An executive order requires residents to wear face masks in public spaces—triggering an unexpected fashion trend. Hipsters make them from secondhand Arcade Fire concert tees, while Patagonia releases a proprietary, beard-friendly down version (retail price: $65).
Keeping the Faith
In 1918: One maskless salesgirl tells a newspaper reporter that “a higher authority” is watching over her well-being—not Denver health officials.
In 2018: One maskless urban chicken farmer tells a blogger her “raw diet” is what’s actually protecting her immune system—not the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.
Fighting City Hall
In 1918: Rallying against the closures of entertainment spaces, community leaders create an “amusement council” to argue for the reopening of movie halls, theaters, and other businesses, so long as patrons wear face masks.
In 2018: Rallying against the cancellation of the Great American Beer Festival, community leaders create a change.org petition calling for the event’s continuation. Denver Beer Co. releases new brews—a Cough-ee Stout and an Influenza Pale Ale—to support the cause.
The Blame Game
In 1918: A Denver health official condemns immigrants for noncompliant social customs. When someone falls ill, he says, Italians and Austrians have “all the relatives and friends immediately flock into the house to call on the sick person,” spreading the disease.
In 2018: Transplants are condemned for bringing the disease across state lines. Sales of Colorado “Native” bumper stickers boom as Texans, Californians, and Midwesterners seek cover.
Making a Comeback
In 1918: Coincidentally, pandemic measures are lifted on November 11, which marks the end of World War I. Citizens hug in celebration, inciting a resurgence of germs. A week later, Denver experiences hundreds of new flu cases.
In 2018: Coincidentally, pandemic measures are lifted on April 20. Citizens pass joints in celebration. Denver’s collective lungs are filled with smoke—and later fluid—from the deadly illness.