In late 1918 the world faced a deadly pandemic, the Spanish flu. One mountain town, Gunnison, Colorado, managed to avoid this global health threat by enforcing strict precautions.
Gunnison, a farming and mining town of about 1,300 people, had special reason to fear. Two railroads connected it to Denver and other population centers, many badly hit. “The flu is after us” the Gunnison News-Champion warned on 10 October. “It is circulating in almost every village and community around us.”
What happened next is instructive amid a new global health emergency a century later as the world struggles react to the emergence of a new coronavirus. Gunnison declared a “quarantine against all the world”. It erected barricades, sequestered visitors, arrested violators, closed schools and churches and banned parties and street gatherings, a de facto lockdown that lasted four months.
It worked. Gunnison emerged from the pandemic’s first two waves – by far the deadliest – without a single case. It was one of a handful of so-called “escape communities” that researchers have analyzed for insights into containing the apparently uncontainable.