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‘It Literally Sounds Like an Infirmary’: As Covid Cases Taper Off, Respiratory Illnesses Spread

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that public health experts have noted a rise in viral respiratory illnesses other than Covid-19.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that public health experts have noted a rise in viral respiratory illnesses other than Covid-19. By Delano R. Franklin
By Claire H. Guo and Christine Mui, Crimson Staff Writers

As Alfonso J. Godinez Aguilar ’24 sat in a LPS A: “Foundational Chemistry and Biology” lecture last week, he took notice of the chorus of phlegmy coughs that rang across the lecture hall.

“In my lecture hall, my 9 a.m., I swear it literally sounds like an infirmary from the amount of coughing I hear,” he said. “I was sitting in the back, and I was like, ‘Why is everyone coughing?’ Then I go to my Orgo lecture, and it’s the same thing.”

Though undergraduate Covid-19 case counts on campus remain in the single digits for the fifth consecutive week, the sounds of coughs and sneezes resound through classes across campus as undergraduates fight off an array of respiratory infections.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that public health experts have noted a rise in viral respiratory illnesses other than Covid-19. He added that many of those illnesses share very similar symptoms to Covid-19.

For several students, the similarity in ailments caused initial worries over whether their symptoms were the result of a Covid-19 infection.

Alexis J. Boo ’22 was the last in her suite to start coughing around the time of the Harvard-Brown game on Sept. 24. After each tested negative for Covid-19, Boo said she suspected another illness.

“I definitely had anxiety over it,” she said last Wednesday, which marked the 18th day of her symptoms.

As a senior, Boo has experienced her share of college sicknesses. However, she said this cough has stood out as particularly “inconvenient and annoying” because of its sheer longevity.

“Even in high school or throughout my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever had an illness for this long,” she said.

Still, Boo admits that regularly testing negative for Covid-19 and following safety protocols like mask-wearing have lulled her into a sense of security.

“I have not helped my cause I think at all by just pretending like I don’t have the cough and going about my life normally. I’m not taking as much rest as I probably should because I [have] been testing negative for Covid-19,” she said. “I know it’s not Covid, so I probably have not been staying in as much.”

Unlike in previous years, Harvard University Health Services now advises students to call and make an appointment instead of walking into the clinic as part of its coronavirus protocols. Primary care and urgent care appointments cannot be made online through the patient portal.

Earlier in the semester, Boo said HUHS placed her on hold “a couple of times” — once lasting for 20 minutes — when making appointments. She said these experiences contributed to her delay in seeking help.

“I’ve been sort of dreading going to HUHS because I feel like it’s just sort of inconvenient,” she said.

After losing her voice over the weekend of Oct. 2, Harini S. Kannan ’24 began to panic when she checked herself for a fever.

“I checked my temperature, realized I have a fever, totally freaked out because I thought it was Covid, which is I think everyone’s first instinct now — that whatever sickness you have, you have to make sure it’s not Covid,” Kannan said.

Kannan reported her symptoms on Crimson Clear that night and received a phone call from HUHS the next morning. The HUHS contact made her an appointment to test for strep throat later that day, which came back positive.

“I didn’t realize how much HUHS would do, but I thought it was really nice that they called and they kind of instigated it,” Kannan said. “I didn’t feel like I was totally in the dark.”

Two weeks after moving from Miami to campus, Folukemi O. Olufidipe ’25 said she started experiencing a sore throat and runny nose which morphed into month-long allergies.

Though these symptoms have not inhibited Olufidipe from attending class, she said she has avoided studying in public places to ensure others do not confuse her sneezing with Covid-19.

“It can get a little embarrassing at times. I would sneeze in public or cough and have to look around at people and be like ‘Well, no, I’m negative,’ or have to go back to my room,” she said. “Not everyone necessarily believes it. It just kind of creates a weird environment.”

CORRECTION: October 30, 2021

A previous version of this article contained a quote which stated Harvard University Health Services is closed on weekends. In fact, HUHS is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

—Staff writer Claire H. Guo can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @clairehguo.

—Staff writer Christine Mui can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MuiChristine.

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