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What is old is now new again: 100 years ago Idaho doctors enforced quarantine to slow spread of smallpox

Is history repeating itself here in the Gem State?

BOISE, Idaho — The Spanish Flu of 1918 has been one of the closest comparisons to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but it wasn't the only infectious disease that Idahoans dealt with 100 years. 

The years following the Spanish Flue Pandemic, people still battled infectious diseases, like smallpox and yellow fever,

On August 17, 1920, one Idaho town had enough with the caviler attitude some residents had with public health.

100 years ago, Dr. F.M. Leitch was the City of Moscow's Health Officer, took to the local newspaper, the Daily-Star Mirror, to remind people about a local outbreak of smallpox and the laws that could be enforced if people didn't take quarantine seriously or didn't report being sick.

"Quarantine laws for the control of contagious diseases will be rigidly enforced in Moscow in the future," Leitch wrote.

A physician by trade, Leitch took up issuing the warning after he received multiple complaints that families came down with smallpox but didn't tell anyone and they went around town spreading and exposing others to the disease.

The state law said physicians who were called to treat people with say, smallpox, the plague, yellow fever, or any other disease dangerous to the public health, they had to report the names of those diagnosed with 24 hours.

If someone just thought someone else might have such an illness, health officials had the right to come into the home and put everyone there under temporary quarantine.

And if a stay-at-home sanction wasn't enough. A quarantine card "having printed on it in large letters the name of the disease within," would be placed on your front door and no one could come in or out without written permission from the board of health.

Considered a flight risk? "Quarantine guards" with police powers would be placed at your door and allowed to use "all necessary means to enforce" that quarantine.

Caught not following the law of Idaho? That's a misdemeanor and could mean you quarantine at the county jail for 90 days or a fine of $50.

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