Stingy Sickness Strikes the Upper School


Will Baiers

The Middle and Upper School Health Office provides support to illness-stricken students.

A contagious strain of influenza is spreading through the Latin community as the school year revs up, infecting students across grade levels and forcing some to stay home—not exactly a welcome surprise after spending two full school years at home.

In an era when an unexpected sneeze or sore throat causes many people to fear the worst, concerns about COVID continue to circulate. Despite Latin’s decision to eliminate their real-time COVID dashboard, the heightened accessibility of rapid self-testing has convinced most students they’re in the clear.

According to the City of Chicago’s COVID Dashboard, positive COVID cases have seen a significant downward trend since last May. For example, on May 10, nearly 2,000 COVID cases were reported in Chicago, but more recently on October 26, just over 200 locals tested positive.

Although it’s not uncommon for students to fall ill at the beginning of each flu season, this year’s shift toward normalcy leaves some community members reevaluating their risk factors.

Junior Lindsey Gassel pointed to Latin’s new policies as potential reasons that sicknesses have escalated. “This is the first year where people are treating COVID as if it’s not the biggest deal in the world,” she said. “People are definitely trying to make up for lost time.”

Considering the combination of changing weather and social events like Homecoming, junior Maile Raff wasn’t surprised she started feeling sick earlier this month. “I had a really bad head cold: nausea, vomiting, congestion, dizziness, and fatigue,” she said.

The Middle and Upper School Health Office, led by Nurses Justine Venegoni and Erin Crowley, recognized how this year’s lack of masking might be another contributing factor to the rapid spread of sickness. “Our immune systems are likely getting used to the new germ pool at the school and will take time to adjust,” Nurse Venegoni said. “Masking is still encouraged within the Latin community, based on personal risk assessment.”

The nurses emphasized how even in the wake of COVID, routine illnesses should not be disregarded. “It definitely is a good reminder that the common cold is still prevalent and worth addressing,” Nurse Venegoni said.

As for traffic in the Health Office, though, the nurses haven’t necessarily noticed an uptick in students seeking aid. “I would say that our activity in the Health Office has remained the same as last year,” she said. “Visits ebb and flow, and the reason for the visits vary each and every day.”

While the nurses encourage students to stay home if they’re feeling unwell, fear of missing work or falling behind can make prioritizing health difficult. Senior Sam Morgan acknowledged the pressures keeping students from making the right call, saying, “If I had a sore throat or something, I would likely come into school just because I can’t afford to get incredibly behind in school, which would happen if I missed even one day.”

Sam added that although students should stay home when sick to protect others, most do not. “If I’m being honest,” she said, “I would say most people are coming to school sick and that’s what’s causing it to spread around.”

Echoing Sam, Maile recognized making the proper choice to stay home when sick isn’t always easy. “The fear of not catching up on work is absolutely there,” Maile said. “To be honest, had I not been afraid to get my peers sick, I would have come to school.”

Regardless of whether more Latin students have fallen ill this year than usual, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data suggests flu season is well underway. Further, this year’s flu season might even be more severe than in previous years, in part due to high influenza rates in the Southern Hemisphere and lenient COVID policies that no longer mandate masking, according to NBC Chicago.

The Upper School Office has declined to disclose the recent attendance numbers of students, but even with this data, conclusions regarding the types of absences cannot be drawn with certainty.

For community members hoping to protect themselves, the Health Office has steps anyone can take to stay healthy. “Two great ways to do this,” Nurse Venegoni said, “are getting the flu vaccine and staying home when sick.”

As the school community sinks deeper into the school year, prioritizing health is crucial. “It is also important that during these fall and winter months we do our best to take care of ourselves,” Nurse Venegoni said. “Proper sleep, nutrition, and hydration can all contribute to overall health and wellbeing.”