The city council’s reticence to enforce regulations struck the health board like a virus. Coroner Schuyler Kelley and Dr. W.W. Crawford resigned out of frustration. “This is not the time to stand from under,” Dr. Ernest Chartres-Martin scolded Crawford. “This is the time to see the city through. I’ll see the council damned before I resign.”
On Saturday, November 30, Chartres-Martin and Remondino, both of whom were recovering from the flu, met with fellow members John Buerkle and newly appointed Senator Leroy A. Wright at Remondino’s home. They wrote a two-pronged emergency resolution: quarantine schools, churches, and public amusements; give the Board of Health the power to enforce the edict. On Monday, they brought their proposal to the city council.
The meeting, scheduled for 10:00 a.m., didn’t begin until almost 11:00, since council members were attending the funeral of William Dougherty. The son of Councilman James Dougherty had died of the flu.
“We are unable to cope with the situation as we ought,” Dr. Chartres-Martin told the assemblage. Therefore, the board wanted to make the quarantine official.
After reading the proposal, Councilman Walter P. Moore moved its adoption. This was a surprise, since Moore boasted that if he had to wear a mask, he’d burn a hole for his cigars. No one seconded the motion. They tabled the resolution by unanimous vote.
“There was not a word of comment by health authorities or members of the council,” wrote the Union. “The crowd departed, leaving the council to its regular business.”
That afternoon, Dr. Chartres-Martin telegrammed the State Health Board demanding the authority to enforce — not merely “authorize” — closing public places. When Chartres-Martin received no answer, he sent another.
Prominent San Diegans weighed in. “We should back the health board,” wrote George Marston. “A quarantine would do no good,” countered James H. Holmes, manager of the U.S. Grant Hotel, adding that the previously closed schools, churches, theaters, and “unnecessary” public gatherings had suffered enough.
Mayor Louis Wilde: “There is a class of people blind and indifferent to the death and sick rate, apparently unconcerned about everything else but nickel nursing and sight-seeing. If we cannot put life and health above dollars and pleasure for a few days, we had better abolish the Bible and the Constitution.”
On December 4, Dr. F.F. Gundru, vice president of the State Board of Health went over the city council’s head and authorized a quarantine in San Diego. But what kind? The specifics were unclear.
On December 5, at 10:00 a.m., the city council, health board, and local businessmen held a meeting. A crowd packed not only the third-floor chambers, but also the lobby and down the long hallway, where coughs and sneezes echoed. Councilman Thomas J. Fisher ordered anyone not involved in the “flu question” to leave immediately. Such an assemblage, he said, constituted a health hazard. No one moved.
Two attorneys, representing business interests, advocated wearing masks “under certain conditions” and opposed a general quarantine. Speaking for the Board of Health, Dr. Chartres-Martin argued for enforcement of the partial quarantine, and the wearing of masks, but opposed a general closing of all businesses.
Councilman Will Palmer advocated all or nothing. Partial enforcement was “discriminatory legislation.” The day before, he said, theater managers in Los Angeles filed a class action suit against the state.
“The quarantine has been of no value,” said Roland Dowell, representing the motion-picture operators. “And perhaps some of the doctors are rather glad to have an epidemic, as I’ve heard they’re charging ‘flu’ patients $5 a visit, and other patients only $3.”
“That’s a low down, diabolical lie!” shouted Chartres-Martin, leaping to his feet. “If this man will meet me on the street and repeat his statement, he’ll be in the hospital, or I will!”
When others grabbed him, Chartres-Martin shook free, took a deep breath, and said: “In the last seven days, we have had over 600 new cases and 42 deaths. We’re doing our best to cope. It’s time the council did its share!”
Councilman Fisher: “We would jeopardize our bonds in supporting a partial ordinance. I say we go the full limit with a quarantine.”
The health board’s newest member, Senator Leroy A. Wright, rose to speak.
Councilman Moore objected. Wright was not a physician, he said: only MD’s should be on the board. Sensing a stall tactic from the liquor lobby’s number one advocate, City Attorney Cosgrove acknowledged that the appointment of a “layman is legal.”
Wright demanded urgency. A partial quarantine wasn’t enough. “People are dying every day…I beseech you, then, to go farther. Unless you act at once, you are not doing your duty. You should do something.”
Dr. Chartres-Martin suggested drawing up a different resolution, limiting the quarantine to specific sites.
When the council rejected the proposal, Chartres-Martin vented: “The council will do nothing not approved by the theater managers! If such is the case, there’s no use in the health board trying to do anything.”
Councilman Fisher proposed a complete quarantine, with full legal enforcement, effective at midnight. “Slam the lid,” he said, pounding the table with his fist. The council adopted the proposal unanimously. Fisher ordered a call to the State Board of Health for complete instructions.
Dr. W.W. Kellogg, secretary of the State Board, sent them. Kellogg confessed he found the situation in San Diego, where the city council blocked recommendations of health authorities, “unusual.”
On December 6, 1918, an “absolute quarantine” went into effect. Except for stores providing “the necessities of life” — foodstuffs or drugs — all other places of “public or private gatherings of any kind” were closed.
That morning, San Diego looked like a ghost town: no streetcars, few autos parked at curbs, fewer pedestrians. Forty people who refused to wear masks received five-dollar fines, laid down by the police’s “flu squad.” The newspapers printed every offender’s name.
On December 9, the health board lifted the quarantine, but ordered San Diegans to wear gauze masks outside their homes until Christmas Eve.
Between October 8, when Dr. Remondino wrote his warning in the Union, and December 9, 3337 San Diegans came down with the flu; 202 died.