Heading Into Winter With the Coronavirus

by Julia Dickinson

News

November 23, 2020
A student stands outside on a dreary day near the end of fall. Luke Hargrave for The Scarlet Letter

Coats, hats, and gloves have all long been necessary accessories for winter here in Massachusetts. This winter, a face mask has been added to the list. As the days keep getting shorter, conversations about the coronavirus keep getting longer. Winter is already dreaded by many — the cold, coupled with the spread of the common cold and the flu make it a difficult season to trudge through. The coronavirus is yet another worry to add to the existing heap. So now, we all find ourselves asking the same question: what is safe this winter?

Clearly, the coronavirus is not going away anytime soon. As such, it’s still important to follow all the safety guidelines we’ve always been following. Please continue to wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, disinfect surfaces, and limit group gatherings. Although these measures may seem excessive and even unnecessary at times, it is extremely important for every single rule to be followed. Too much is at stake for people to be irresponsible and careless. This winter, more precautions will need to be added to the aforementioned list.

A student shivers in cold, nearly winter weather. Luke Hargrave for The Scarlet Letter

With temperatures outdoors quickly dropping, air circulation through buildings is becoming more and more of a pressing problem. COVID-19 is thought to be primarily transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets that travel through the air after being sprayed out of an infected person’s mouth, hence the importance of effective air circulation.1 In many buildings, including BUA’s, windows and doors have been kept open whenever possible to allow fresh air to circulate, keeping particles moving. Such a system falls apart when it gets colder outside. In other parts of the country where winters aren’t as severe, this more rudimentary air circulation method still works. However, up here in Massachusetts, it is becoming too cold to keep windows open. And blasting the heat to counteract the cold air that comes in through open windows is not truly a viable option: it would be costly and also frankly uncomfortable. For many buildings, reevaluations will have to be conducted to see whether it’s safe for people to gather there anymore.

Another sickness looms on the horizon, though it is dwarfed by the coronavirus. We are in the middle of flu season now, which starts in fall and can extend well into the spring.2 Symptoms of the flu can range from mild coughing and stuffy noses to pneumonia in more severe cases.3 An uptick in the number of flu cases has always been a source of distress in winter, but this year especially, the flu is a major problem. One significant issue is that many symptoms of the flu coincide with symptoms of the coronavirus. A person with muscle aches, a fever, and a sore throat could easily either have the flu or the coronavirus.4 Doctors seeing patients this winter will need to be extra careful when giving diagnoses.

The newness of this situation presents a second problem: no one has much information about what happens when a person contracts the flu and the coronavirus at the same time. It is thought that battling both diseases at once would severely weaken one’s immune system while also potentially causing respiratory and cardiac failures.4 As such, receiving a flu shot has become even more necessary this year. To reflect this importance, BUA has mandated that BUA students get a flu shot at least by the end of the year, and preferably as soon as possible.

These two issues we know for sure will have to be dealt with. However, a winter favorite of children everywhere has an unknown outcome: what will happen to snow days? Although not every school has had the ability to transition online as easily as BUA can, many school districts have become more familiar with remote learning, with some even teaching fully remotely now. In previous years, worries about the safety of opening school buildings have led to snow days being called. But in the midst of numerous other concerns, this is no longer one; now school can be moved to the home at a simple announcement. Snow days, great mental health breaks for students, are in jeopardy. Their disappearance will surely be debated in the months to come.

It is imperative to keep following COVID-19 guidelines. Opportunities to connect with missed family and friends will certainly present themselves in winter, but this year, please make sure to keep these interactions online. Celebrate winter in person with your household. So I leave you here: go ahead and fill your favorite mug with hot chocolate, put on your comfiest pajamas, and do your part by staying safe!


1 Zeynep Tufekci, “We Need to Talk About Ventilation,” The Atlantic, July 30, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/07/why-arent-we-talking-more-about-airborne-transmission/614737/.

2 “The Flu Season,” CDC,
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season.htm#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%20flu%20season%20occurs%20in%20the%20fall,last%20as%20late%20as%20May..

3 “Flu Symptoms & Complications,” CDC,
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm.

4 Holly Yan, “Yes, you can have Covid-19 and the flu at the same time. Here’s what that could do to your body,” CNN, September 11, 2020,
https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/11/health/covid-flu-together-health-impact/index.html.

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