Cold or Covid?

     With all the normalcy being back in person at Oyster River High School has brought, the normalcy of cold and flu season has also returned. Less normal, however, is the added stress of questioning whether you have just a common cold or the much more dangerous COVID-19.

     During the 2020-21 school year, students were remote until early April, meaning the typical cold and flu season was skipped over. Recently, colds have been spreading around at ORHS for the first time in over a year. Meanwhile, COVID-19 case counts are on the rise in the Seacoast NH community. Since symptoms of colds and COVID-19 are very similar, many feel stressed about whether they just have a cold or if they have COVID-19, and feel self-conscious about going to school even after following ORCSD safety protocols.

     As of mid-December, COVID-19 cases had been on the rise. According to the New York Times the Strafford County, NH positivity rate was 13%. The site said, “cases have increased recently and are extremely high… The test positivity rate in Strafford County is very high, suggesting that cases are being significantly undercounted.” To find more recent facts, click here.

     Many people at ORHS have been getting sick and each has handled it a bit differently. Shauna Horsley, an English teacher at ORHS, was sick with a stomach bug during quarter one. This brought symptoms similar to COVID-19, such as a fever, nausea, and vomiting. She is a part of the SASS (Safer at School COVID-19 Screening) Program, so she receives a COVID-19 test weekly. When she developed symptoms, she said, “I had a fever of 102°. I was definitely concerned [it was COVID-19. However,] that day when I came down with the sickness, I had my Covid test at school and it was negative, so that was reassuring.”

      Eleanor Raspa (‘23) had a cold during quarter one before case counts started rising so dramatically. At this time, she was not as worried about her symptoms being COVID-19, as she had just been around people with colds. She said, “maybe I should have been [worried it was COVID-19], but I also know it’s cold season and people still get colds.”

     Tate Sullivan (‘22) had a slightly different perspective when he had a cold around the same time as Raspa. His brother had been sick with a cold and tested negative for COVID-19 so he said, “I wasn’t too worried. I layed low for a little bit, but as the days went on, the gears started turning about ‘is this Covid?’ And if it is, I should get a test so I can tell people and get that information out as soon as possible.”

     Although Horsley, Raspa and Sullivan were able to determine that they did not have COVID-19, their worries appear to be valid. Zoe Boyd (‘22) had COVID-19 towards the beginning of quarter two and spoke about her experience. “I wasn’t feeling super sick. I had kind of a headache and was like ‘I can’t go to school today,’ but I didn’t really think that I had Covid.”

      Although Boyd was the only of these people to test positive for COVID-19, each of them went to get a COVID-19 test. This is because of the district policy about coming back to school after being sick. Kim Wolph, the nurse at ORHS explained this policy, saying, “along with a negative COVID-19 test, they need to be fever free and no vomiting for 24 hours without the use of Ibuprofen or Tylenol to come back to school.” She continued, “all students and faculty need to be able to pass the pre-entry questionnaire, located on our district website. If they cannot pass the screener, they are to make contact with the building nurse and the nurse will triage and determine next steps.” 

     Even after receiving their negative COVID-19 tests, Horsley, Raspa, and Sullivan chose to stay home. Raspa was out of school for 4 days. She explained why she made this decision and said, “I might have gone in on a normal year to ‘tough it out.’ I don’t normally stay out that long, but it was just a really bad cold.” 

     Horsley said, “the policy has always been that if you have a fever, you’re not supposed to return to work for [24] hours after the fever breaks. I think that it’s so hard to be out whether you’re a teacher or a student, that sometimes we look at that rule and we’re like ‘well…’ and Covid has forced us to really think about spreading any sort of virus.”

     Reducing the spread of viruses is especially important for people like Sofia Self (‘23). They have Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease. They said, “I’m otherwise a pretty healthy person. Everything with my body is pretty much fine, except my immune system. With Covid, if I were to get it, it’s kind of a 50-50 chance whether it would be super detrimental [to me] or kind of fine like everybody else.”

     Self had a cold and experienced a bit of worry about it. They said, “there is a big added layer of stress for people with autoimmune diseases because you don’t really know if it’s going to affect the rest of your life and how your body works forever.” 

     Another reason students and staff may stay home for longer is because of their symptoms. Sullivan said, “[when you are] coughing or sniffling, you’re like, ‘I swear I don’t have Covid!’ kind of as a joke but also it’s a serious concern that some people can have.”

     Raspa also shared this perspective and said, “I [feel self-conscious] because whenever I cough, I get a weird look, like ‘oh my god does she have it?’” 

     Horsley took multiple COVID-19 tests before coming back to school but said, “I was very vocal about [testing negative] even though I knew I didn’t have to say anything. I just felt like I had to say, ‘I’ve been out sick with a stomach bug and I know I don’t have COVID-19.’” 

     Boyd also had the self-conscious feelings felt by those who just had colds or bugs when she had COVID-19. She said, “I definitely felt self-conscious about people knowing I had Covid because I knew I had been following protocols but I felt like other people would see it as me being irresponsible.”

     With right now being the height of cold and flu season, many might be getting sick even if they follow the rules. “If somebody tests positive for COVID-19 they are out for 10 full days from either symptom onset, or test date if symptom onset is questionable. We encourage all who test positive (or guardians if appropriate) to make contact with their teachers to check in regarding schoolwork. Nobody has to share their own personal health status, but checking in with teachers and staying on top of work through Schoology is beneficial when able to do so,” said Wolph.

     Boyd was devastated about being out of school for so long but said, “all of my teachers have been really helpful and really concerned about me getting better. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable knowing that they all want to help me get back into the routine of things.”

     From a teacher’s perspective, Horsley said, “another real concern is not wanting to burden your coworkers with taking responsibility for your classes. That’s another layer to it that I was definitely thinking about and appreciating how people stepped up.”

    Even though it’s hard to miss school and rely on others, it is also important to try and keep everyone as healthy as possible. Right now is the height of flu and cold season and COVID-19 is still a problem. Most times the sniffles will just be the sniffles and a cough will just be a cough, but it can be stressful and responding correctly by following the safety protocols can help keep yourself and others safe. Raspa said, “it’s just unfortunate that we got stuck with a virus that is so similar to a common cold. A lot of people get colds and that’s still a normal part of our lives.”