The cold winter months are approaching quickly, and flu season is just around the corner. With increased time spent indoors and less vitamin D available to strengthen one’s immune system, common colds should be similarly inevitable, yet many people have not caught a cold in years. That fact may be changing.

Restrictions put in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19, including six-foot social distancing guidelines, quarantines, and mask-wearing, began in the late winter of 2020 and continued strictly through the first half of 2021. According to Yale Medicine, this led to the lowest number of hospitalizations from influenza (the flu) since they began recording data in 2005. Precautions to prevent COVID were effective in preventing the flu, as well. Subsequently, these guidelines have been loosened. The 2021–22 school year has been the most normal one since before the pandemic.

Reduced distancing and mask wearing make for a much more pleasant and typical school year. Unfortunately, they also allow for non-COVID-19 respiratory viruses to once again spread throughout the Concord Academy community. In New Zealand, where winter has already passed, cases of the common cold skyrocketed when the country began allowing people to travel across its borders. Previously, there had been very little spread of the cold in New Zealand due to their strict lock-downs. Sneezing, coughing, and stuffy noses, which have been mostly absent over the past year and a half, should be expected to return this cold-and-flu season. 

Fear of catching COVID-19 has led to the stigmatization of formerly common behaviors like coughing. Many people, upon hearing someone cough, worry that the individual might have COVID-19. The association between the two is not without reason; a dry cough is one of the most common COVID-19 symptoms. Still, there are numerous other viruses that can cause a cough, such as the common cold, the flu, and even bronchitis. 

The addition of surveillance testing as part of the CA COVID-19 protocol might be helpful in that regard. While anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms can go to the Health Center for immediate testing, the newly-implemented routine community testing should be a reassurance that someone coughing quite possibly does not have COVID-19. 

Having a cold is definitely an unpleasant experience, and the CA community should remain vigilant in hand-washing, masking, and other measures to prevent the spread of both COVID and other respiratory viruses.