During the winter, spreading viruses and infections happens a lot more frequently than at other times of year. People are stuck indoors more, which means they’re in closer proximity to others for longer periods of time than when they’re able to go outside.
Some viruses tend to be more prevalent during the winter as well. The combination of that and people being together in small spaces for hours on end makes getting sick in the winter far more likely. If you’re sick, it’s best to stay home, rest, and be away from other people who might get sick from being near you.
Unfortunately, schools and workplaces don’t always make it easy for us to stay home and take care of ourselves when we’re sick. A lot of schools, particularly high schools, have attendance requirements. They might have a policy that says “Don’t come to school within 24 hours of having a fever,” but also have a policy that says “If you miss more than three days per grading term without a doctor’s note, you fail all your classes.” (These policies both existed at my older offspring’s high school.)
Meanwhile, doctor’s offices often won’t see a patient for a mild fever, or for cold symptoms or an upset stomach. Calling the office results in hearing, “There’s a stomach bug going around, just have your child rest and drink lots of fluids, there’s no need to bring them in.”
The child or teen is too sick to go to school according to the school’s illness policy, but not sick enough to see a doctor, which means you can’t get a doctor’s note so the student doesn’t fail their classes due to being absent. So they pack up, go off to school even though they’re feeling miserable, and half their classmates end up getting sick and having the same problem. And the illness cycles, and the family members of those students get sick too, and so on.
Workplaces also often penalize employees for taking sick time, or they don’t offer sick time at all. Someone who is living paycheck to paycheck at a job that doesn’t include paid sick time can’t afford to miss a day of work, because that means losing a day of pay. Someone who gets paid sick time might be afraid of repercussions from their boss if they take a day off. So these employees head to work, where their coworkers catch the illness and end up having the same problem. And the family members of those employees get sick too, and so on.
Too often in our society, we’re taught that being sick is weakness. We have to achieve and meet our responsibilities no matter how we feel, and no matter the risk to others who might contract an illness from us. But how much good are we doing ourselves and others if we push to go to school or work when we’re sick? I don’t know if there is a solution, but I do wish things would change.