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On September 30th, officials in Idaho reported that there were several cases of influenza in Canyon County. Within less than two weeks, the state admitted that the number of cases had grown to such an extent that they were unable to track the disease accurately. By late October, cases of influenza were reported in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Wallace and a range of other towns.

An intersection in Boise.  Several buildings are prominent among them one which is labeled Booth Furniture.
Influenza hit Boise, shown here in 1909, in October. [Credit: The Library of Congress]

Rural Idaho suffered terribly from the pandemic. Remembering the impact of the pandemic in Paris, Idaho, one former resident said “There was a feeling of depression and sadness because neighbors, you see, were passing away."

State officials and newspapers urged calm. In Rexburg, the local paper insisted that there was “no occasion for panic” but then went on to discuss the need to enforce the town’s quarantine. In Sandpoint, all public gatherings were prohibited even as the local paper maintained that there was no cause for alarm.

To their dismay, many officials found that quarantines had no real impact on the spread of the disease. In Franklin County, one prominent citizen wrote to the Surgeon General in January, saying “this county has been closed tight, that is so far as schools, academy, theaters, and picture shows are concerned.” But, he noted, “in looking up similar conditions in other towns, we find that the said towns have been opened in spite of the prevalence of the epidemic. And reviewing these cases, we find that the conditions in those places have been much worse that what we have had in this section.” What was a community to do? How could officials know when the disease had truly run its course? The Surgeon General had no answer.

In Idaho, as elsewhere, the disease simply ran its course, unchecked by actions taken by state, local or federal officials. While influenza rates lessened during the late fall, it was not until the summer of 1919 that the disease began to disappear from the state.

Population in 1920:
431,866. None of the state's cities or towns had a population over 70,000.

The majority of the state's residents lived in rural areas.

First Official Report of Influenza:
The Public Health Service did not require states to report influenza before September 27th. Idaho first reported the presence of influenza on September 30th but the disease was probably present in the state much earlier.

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