Common Cold Season Conquers Latin Classrooms


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Middle schoolers wearing masks in the fall of 2022.

It’s the sound of the season: bone-rattling, phlegmy coughs from every pair of lungs at Latin. Throughout the winter months, Upper School students must juggle their schoolwork, health, and the well-being of the community, all of which seem out of anyone’s control.

Over the US bridge, Latin’s nurses see the worst of every season’s sickness. “I think right now, cold and flu season is a big factor,” Upper and Middle School nurse Justine Venegoni said. “Just between October and February, there are lots of illnesses all throughout the school—they seem to ebb and flow sometimes.”

The frequency of these outbreaks can make preventative measures seem irrelevant. “There are those weeks where someone gets sick, and then it spreads through an entire grade, but that’s just what happens,” junior Will Wichman said.

This shrugging attitude toward sickness may not have always been the case, however. With each year, the world grows more distant from the peak of the COVID pandemic, and public health habits have seen a consequential decline in school environments. “We might be getting hit especially hard because people are stopping masking, [a] big thing that can help prevent the spread of illness,” Ms. Venegoni said. While face masks don’t ensure the wearer’s safety, they are essential in protecting the health of those around them.

Resistance toward masking at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and subsequent decline in mask use became an indicator of the general sentiments this prevention strategy brought. “Because people aren’t masking as much anymore, germs are spreading more easily,” Ms. Venegoni said. “We’re being exposed to new germ pools all the time with different people entering the school.”

Other than masking, staying home when sick is one of the most effective methods of reducing the spread of illness. This approach does not come without complications, however, and many students balk at the idea of missing schoolwork or practice.

“A bunch of my teammates are coming to practice with these bronchitis-like coughs, and everyone can hear it,” sophomore and varsity girls ice hockey athlete Charlie Wolin said. “It’s really gross, and I don’t wanna practice when you’re hacking up a hairball.”

“There was definitely something going around before break,” senior Will Turula said. “It seems like a lot of people in my grade are getting sick.” The recent uptick in COVID diagnoses within the Chicago community also raised fears that had been put on the back burner since the COVID pandemic’s peak in 2020.

As unpleasant as a wheezing cough is, health can, for some, become secondary to more daily stressors such as school or sports. Still, pushing health aside for these commitments can become even more consequential than a missed assignment. “It can be really hard trying to keep up and catch up,” sophomore Tucker Thayer said. “[While I was] sick, after giving it my all during school, I got home and collapsed. There was no energy left to actually do homework.”

Some students within the community don’t have the privilege of deciding between school and health at all. Ms. Venegoni said, “Everyone has their own specific health background and home lives where they might be worried about exposing different people who they’re living with, so I’m sure it’s very challenging for people who have more to worry about than just themselves.”

While individuals with different health backgrounds, such as being immunocompromised or living with older family members, may seem like the minority of Latin students, the responsibility still falls on the school’s majority to be aware of the reach that one cough or sneeze may have.

“I think it’s just another reason why it’s important for people to be cognizant that we’re in a community,” Ms. Venegoni said. “Stay home when you’re sick, and think of how it impacts other people’s lives, and hopefully, that can encourage people to stay home and rest.”