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Masks in the past: from the Spanish Influenza to COVID-19

Three green surgical masks
Mika Baumeister
Three surgical masks

Mask making companies like The Logan Mask in Nibley, Utah wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the pandemic, and Lorrie Seljestad never thought she would be sitting at her sewing machine all day running the business.

“Who foresees a pandemic coming,” Seljestad said. “Or sitting in church with masks on your face or any of that?”

But even though masks are new to us, Utah State Special Collections and Archives photograph curator Daniel Davis said masks themselves aren’t new.

“During the Spanish Influenza, which started in the fall of 1918, they realized that masks were important,” Davis said.

Similar to today, Davis said not everyone liked masks.

“It was kind of a mix, because some people thought masks were really important, and then some people didn't. Even doctors were like, you know, masks aren't really all that great for this,” Davis said. “So there was a mixture of opinions, kind of like today.”

Davis said the masks of the Spanish Influenza were most similar to the cloth masks we have today. In 2022 we have a lot more options. Cloth, surgical and N-95 masks all filter out particles we breathe in to a certain extent. The CDC said N-95’s are most effective but Bear River Health Department Public Information Officer Estee Hunt said any mask is better than no mask.

“You wear the most protective mask you can that fits well, and that you will wear consistently,” Hunt said.

Companies like The Logan Mask will continue to sell masks for now.

“We have some very loyal customers that still want them,” Seljestad said. “So I keep making them.”

You can visit CDC.gov for more information on mask recommendations.