Phelan: It can be tough to 
avoid germs in school

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Cold and flu season is upon us, and – this year – the flu is worse than ever. Illinois is one of 30 states to report high flu activity, and trends are showing that this could be the worst year since 2009’s H1N1 scare. Even though 48 states have “widespread geographic influenza activity,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that flu levels might not have peaked in some areas.

To a high school student, this is terrifying.

As most people know, symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, coughing, headaches, stuffed or runny nose and possible stomach problems. None of these sound particularly pleasant to me, and I especially don’t want to have them in school. School is different than the adult work environment. First, we’re packed into classrooms like sardines, and at least six other kids have their hands all over my desk at some point in the day. This makes a perfect breeding ground for germs, with other possibly sick kids touching doorknobs, drinking fountains and shared computers constantly.

In most professional offices, people can get up to use the restroom, get a drink or wash their hands pretty much whenever they please. Adults are allowed to pace themselves in the workplace. We kids must stay in our chairs for nearly an hour at a time, and most teachers will let someone leave the classroom only once during that time period. Heaven forbid someone has to use the restroom, then get a drink 30 minutes later. And despite warnings to stay away from others when coughing or sneezing, it’s highly impractical for a sick student to leave each time he or she needs to cough. They would miss nearly the whole lesson, and then they would be doomed.

See, in high school, missing any class time is dangerous. Teachers are known to test us about things they never wrote down but simply mentioned once during class. Not being there would jeopardize a student’s grade.

Then there’s the issue of makeup work. Most teachers give the number of days absent to make up assignments (for example, missing two days of school gives you two extra days for the work). What ends up happening is that a student is given assignments from each class and is told to do them in two days. The student has to teach him or herself the information, do the assignment with little to no instruction and manage assignments for five or six other classes, usually while he or she is still sick and is in desperate need of sleep. Often, the makeup work goes undone, and the student is forced to come back to class and spread more germs on his or her desk.

So, how can we avoid such a perilous fate? First, get a flu shot. The CDC has reported that the vaccination is effective against the most popular flu strains this year, and recommends everyone older than 6 months gets one. Next, remember to wash your hands with soap and water – don’t just use hand sanitizer – before eating, after using the restroom and after any contact with germy people. If you feel sick or are positively diagnosed with influenza, stay home. Parents, keep your sick kids home, too, and ask the teachers for mercy. I really don’t need another kid coughing violently in my German class.

Stay healthy, everyone. 

• Courtney Phelan is a senior at Geneva High School. She can be contacted at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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