Seasonal illness cases rising among Lansing area students

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In recent weeks, students in the Lansing School District have been dealing with an increasing number of seasonal illnesses, district officials say.

The vast majority of these illnesses are not COVID-19. The district’s weekly report for Oct. 3-9 showed 24 positive COVID-19 cases among students and three among staff members. Other illnesses, however, can share similar symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose and sore throat.

Susan Wheeler, a COVID-19 coordinator for the Lansing School District, said that there has been an “uptick” in flu cases recently in the district,

“People certainly have an awareness of COVID, and we monitor it very closely because of the potential of serious illness from COVID,” Wheeler said. “But we still understand that there are other illnesses that are typical and normal that will run around the schools, but that is just going to happen when you have large groups of people back in-person for the first time in a while.”

But Wheeler said students do have to remain out of school even if their illness is not COVID-19.

“If a student is symptomatic, and we have a list of what those symptoms are, essentially the symptoms that correlate with COVID,” Wheeler said. “If they display those symptoms they need to be out of school for either 10 days or when they have a negative COVID test and an alternative diagnosis from a doctor.”  

The Lansing School District has a face mask mandate as a part of its COVID-19 protocols, and Wheeler said district officials are not concerned with the rise in cold or flu cases.

“It’s expected and typical because this is the beginning of the flu season, but our numbers are not overwhelming and we believe that is in large part to our COVID mitigation strategies that are in place,” Wheeler said.

Jodi Hancock, a Holt resident and student success coordinator at Michigan State University, says that similar illnesses are appearing in college students as well, meaning students of all ages are falling behind.

“With the schools being closed and the remote learning, the access to that quality education, this gap that we’re going to see for a long time has increased,” Hancock said. “Gaps can happen when we’re all in person in regular schools based on parental involvement, based on funding, there’s inequities that exist … there’s a lot of work that educators really have to do to help close that gap that COVID just made worse.”

Heather Poddany, an acute care practice manager based in Toledo, Ohio, said what has been going around is simply normal fall illnesses that people’s immune systems aren’t used to.

“Many people had little to no exposure to anything for 18 months and now here we are reemerging into a close to normal society while we’re still kind of in the middle of this global pandemic,” Paddony said. “So everything from bacteria to germs are kind of piling up right now and it’s created the perfect storm.”

Introducing seasonal illnesses back into a more normal society has made it more difficult to determine what symptoms are a result of COVID-19. The best way to know would be to test sick students for COVID-19, Poddany said.

Another method of protection could be for students to get their yearly flu shot, Poddany said, but she worries that some people will not get their usual flu shot.

“I think that another big part is because of everyone’s political viewpoints on vaccines all of a sudden, they are staying away from the flu shot, and I think a lot of this could be deterred with that,” Poddany said. “I was still the first in line to get my shot when the clinics started offering them again.”

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