Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right New York State icon-chevron-right New York icon-chevron-right See historical photos of how New York dealt with the flu epidemic of 1918
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Photograph: National Archives A typist wears a mask during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic.

See historical photos of how New York dealt with the flu epidemic of 1918

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With all the talk about coronavirus, you've probably heard mention of the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic that infected 500 million people and killed 50 million around the world.

New York itself went through three waves of the Spanish Flu with about 33,000 people out of a 5.6 million population dying. You can read more about how it affected NYC at archives.nyc.

But we have to remember that there are big differences between the two pandemics–namely, our huge advancements in medicine, which is helping us understand and react more quickly to coronavirus than we could to the Spanish Flu.

It is worth a look back in time to see how New Yorkers handled keeping their distance, so we pulled photos from the National Archives and the Library of Congress to show how they lived their lives. It wasn't unlike current times–most photos show people wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the flu.

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Photograph: National Archives

 A police officer wearing a mask as he directs traffic. 

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Photograph: National Archives

This sanitation worker said about wearing his mask, "Better ridiculous than dead."

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Photograph: National Archives

 City conductorettes in their masks.

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Photograph: National Archives

While not in NYC, here's a look inside Army Hospital Number 4 at Fort Porter, where the office force used masks at work. Here, they're working on dictation through the masks.

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Photograph: National Archives

At the same hospital beds are reversed, alternately, so the breath of one patient was not directed toward the face of another.

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Photograph: Library of Congress

Here, Red Cross workers at the New York County chapter at 82nd street and Amsterdam Ave., are turning out medical supplies and hospital equipment that was used by the city health department in its "war on influenza." 

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