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Sick and Afraid to Skip: The Realities of Being Ill in a Pandemic 

With thousands of American University students returning to class from all over the world, campus has become a breeding ground for all kinds of sicknesses that aren’t COVID-19. 

For the past two weeks I’ve had one of the many illnesses going around. It started out as a sore throat until I completely lost my voice, then turned into a severe sinus infection. 

Being sick during a pandemic is scary and determining whether or not to quarantine with the stress of starting class again adds an extra layer of worry. 

Even though all of my professors have clearly stated that if we feel sick we should stay home, without online class options and the fear of falling behind, I’ve had to push myself to go to class when I had a cold and I know other students have done the same. In almost all of my classes so far, there has always been at least one student with a cough or the sniffles. 

While this can be anxiety provoking for fear of being exposed to COVID, I have to remind myself that just a week ago I was in the same situation—sick and afraid to skip. 

But why are we all getting sick?

 After over a year of wearing masks and avoiding large groups, it seemed that the common cold was a thing of the past. During quarantine rates of common respiratory illnesses like the cold, flu, step and bronchitis dramatically decreased. As pandemic restrictions have eased, this is no longer the case as it seems that everyone has gotten sick this month. 

This doesn’t mean our immune systems have weakened due to the months in quarantine, but rather we just haven’t been exposed to viruses as often as we normally are until recently, leaving our immune systems more susceptible to viruses that we haven’t encountered. 

Based on these spikes in respiratory illness we can only assume that as winter looms closer this cold and flu season will most likely be worse than most. 

Also for many people, myself included, wearing a mask may become a norm during the winter when cold and flu season reaches its peak. Getting the flu shot and any other doctor recommended vaccines along with practicing proper hygiene is the most effective way to combat getting sick. 

What else can you do?

During the pandemic I learned that I’m immunocompromised. This puts me at a heightened risk of getting sick and experiencing more severe symptoms from those illnesses. After losing two years of my college experience to COVID and now the first couple of weeks of my junior year to a viral infection I am not willing to lose any more time to being sick. 

I’m currently doing everything in my power to avoid getting sick again and, so far, it seems to be working. 

The biggest piece of advice I can give to people is rest. That first day of a cold when you know something is wrong, but you don’t actually feel sick yet, is the most important. So, as bad as the FOMO may be, stay in and sleep. My favorite thing to do is making a cup of Emergen-C tea (orange Emergen-c and green tea) and watching my favorite movie. 

I am also a strong advocate for vitamins or at least eating nutrient rich foods. Vitamins C, D, and zinc are all nutrients that most Americans are deficient in, but these nutrients are also major boosters for our immune system. 

I take these vitamins every day, but they also can be found in foods, oranges and orange juice are a great source of vitamin C. It is harder to consume vitamin D through food for those with dietary restrictions because it is primarily found in meat products. Being a vegetarian, I choose to take vitamin D tablets, particularly in the winter when it’s too cold to spend time outside and the sun’s UV rays are lower. Whole grains and beans are a great source of zinc,since they’re relatively inexpensive they are more accessible. 

When trying to stay healthy, it is essential to get lots of rest and drink plenty of water. Drinking water helps flush the toxins and infections out of your body and rest gives your immune system time to recover. 

Being sick is hard and it’s even harder in the midst of a pandemic. Always put yourself and your health first, take the time to do what you need to do to stay safe and recharge. 

And remember to wash your hands!

Mackenzie Riley

American '23

Mackenzie is a sophomore at American University studying SIS with a minor in Spanish. She loves writing poetry and exploring Washington DC in her free time, discovering new hidden gems. She enjoys writing about environmental sustainability, campus safety, and self care!
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