Airborne illnesses pose health concerns for returning students

Elizabeth Montiel-Alvarado, Campus Carrier staff writer

Despite being nearly three years after the pandemic, COVID-19 and other air-borne illnesses may still pose a threat to many people, especially students, who begin gathering as the new school year starts. 

As classes begin, a large group of people gather in a singular classroom where usually there is no access to open air. By having these groups of people in a closed space, it becomes much easier for airborne diseases to be spread from person to person.

“It’s all about space and separation,” Melanie Merrin, assistant director of the health center said. “When school starts back up or when the weather starts to get cooler, people move indoors and are in tight crowded spaces that are not as well-ventilated as the outdoors.”

Even though air ventilation in classrooms may not always be the primary reason for the spread of illnesses, it may have some effect on or worsen the reactions of the immune system. This may result in allergy symptoms that feel worse than normal or illnesses that turn out to be something else. 

“I don’t know if it is so much about ventilation as it is about crowded spaces, crowded indoor spaces.” Merrin said. “Ventilation can play a role in making people sick and sometimes it is not even with our illnesses, it is dust and indoor allergens.”

In the presence of many people in a crowded space, it’s extremely important that we also be self-aware and make sure that when we get sick, we are protecting ourselves and other people in the vicinity. This can be through wearing masks or letting the professors know when we are feeling ill. 

“I don’t have mandatory attendance policies right now.” Courtney Cooper, visiting assistant professor of environmental policy said. “I think it’s more important that were stopping infections as we start to feel sick, so we are not spreading our germs.”

The time in which most students begin to get sick starts around September as people return to campus and adjust to the environment. This period then drags on into January where the flu and other respiratory viruses are most recurrent. 

Since this period is mostly during the winter months, most people tend to gather inside in the warm temperatures because they feel more comfortable there. So naturally, this leads to the quick spread of diseases and germs. But in a school like Berry with lots of open space around, students have different options to protect themselves and their health. 

“Getting 30 minutes of activity per day can boost your immune system to help prevent colds and flu during the cold season.” Merrin said. “Even if it’s just for a little while each day, the sunshine helps boost vitamin D.”

Additionally, although many viruses can be airborne, you still have to be in close contact with someone to receive them. So, we have to be careful about hygiene and our surroundings. 

“Just be smart, wash your hands, don’t touch your eyes, your nose and your mouth with dirty hands.” Merrin said. 

If you would like to be a bit more protected as we enter the flu season, the health center is currently offering free flu vaccines. You can get them through appointments or walk-ins when available and they will be offering the vaccines until they run out. 

“That’s one of the best ways you can protect yourself from the flu,” Merrin said. “It’s not always 100% but it is your best bet to avoid getting the flu.”

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