Winter Blues

From the common cold to seasonal influenza to strep throat, the number of illnesses plaguing Andover students has reached an alarming high this winter as feverish students rush to the Isham Health Center. While the school was quick to implement preventative measures in Paresky Commons and stricter boarding policy in Isham, the combination of hazy school regulations and the student body’s fear of missing class and falling behind has exacerbated sickness on campus.

Despite repeated prodding from my friends to go to Isham a few weeks ago, I still had doubts, even as I developed a stuffy nose and a cough. Should I wait until my symptoms are more pronounced? I feared missing a day of classes and was reluctant to commit myself to a day in bed. Although I only had a minor cold and not the flu, I ultimately decided to go to Isham. Luckily, because I treated my cold in its early stages, I did not have to stay for a prolonged period of time.

Still, my friends could empathize with my hesitance. Over dinner, we discussed how, back at home, staying in at the first sign of a cold would be a no-brainer. At Andover, however, the academic environment is much more demanding, and thus the the risk associated with missing classes is much higher. As a result, students are often much more unwilling to take a day off, even if their health is at stake. Because of the fear generated by the thought of getting behind on school work, ill students continue to attend classes, spreading their illness throughout our enclosed, residential campus.

There need to be guidelines that dictate whether or not students are well enough to attend classes. As of now, the decision to go to Isham is completely at the discretion of the student, a practice that allows those with illness to stay out even if they are very contagious. A single statement in the official school policy could discourage sick students from attending class. For example, the Blue Book could provide a list of symptoms of commons illnesses for students to consult when they feel sick. While students could lie about their symptoms, a simple protocol would take much of the uncertainty out of the students’ hands and encourage them to seek medical attention.

Andover should also take advantage of Wellness Week, which conveniently falls in the middle of sick season, to emphasize the importance of taking care of oneself early on, before the illness progresses further. The school should continue to remind students not to share food or utensils and to wash hands before eating, and enforce the ban on dorm-to-dorm sleepovers.

In addition, though I found Paresky’s measures excessive at first, I applaud Paresky for cracking down on germ-spreading practices like self-served meals and providing protective gloves when the flu reached its peak. I believe campus as a whole, not just Paresky, should work to fight sickness in the winter. The practice of wiping down should be expanded beyond Paresky to communal light switches and door knobs in dorms. Students should also take advantage of the hand sanitizer dispensers in academic buildings.

Students need to remember that their health is far more important than any schoolwork and that by continuing to attend classes while contagious, they are simply putting themselves and the community in jeopardy. In the end, a combination of clearer illness guidelines, more sanitary habits and stronger student initiative will help Andover become a healthier, happier campus during the winter.