Though positive cases of COVID-19 have been limited within the Carleton community, a surge in cases of the “Carleton Cold” is being reported among the student body. Students have been suffering from symptoms including a sore throat, congestion and exhaustion. There are varying degrees of irritation, but the sickness often lasts up to two weeks.
Given that this wave of sickness appeared to follow Carleton’s termination of its campus-wide indoor mask mandate on October 6, some students believe the mask rollback was a significant contributor to the speed of the spread. “The timing for unmasking was horrible,” said Barry Nwike ’25, who caught the cold at the end of September. “This cold has started to spread like a wildfire within friend groups,” he added.
Nurse Practitioner Angel Yackel, who reports a significant increase in students visiting SHAC in the past two weeks with cold-related symptoms, believes unmasking may have some degree of influence. However, Yackel also reported “an uptick in colds before the mandate ended,” and believes the main source of spread is among roommates and groups of friends who wouldn’t have necessarily been masking under the college’s policy anyway. Most students Yackel talks to have an idea of the exact individual whom they caught the cold from.
Out of respect and consideration, many sick students are utilizing masks more than they are currently required by the college to protect their peers. For example, Patrick Assali ’25 recalled instances where he still wore a mask when he was outside with friends while he had the cold. Utilizing masks as a tool for containing the common cold is a newfound post-COVID practice in areas throughout the United States, and when practiced by students, it exemplifies a new sense of carefulness surrounding infectious diseases on campus.
Although the general disease has been dubbed the “Carleton Cold” by many students, it is likely that there are a few different illnesses being spread, particularly as symptoms seem to vary between students. Some students have experienced long-lasting headaches, such as Navya Murahari ’25, who describes her headache as feeling like “my brain is doing the salsa every time I move.” Others, such as Nwike, have experienced “dry coughing fits” and typical cold symptoms such as congestion and fatigue.
Assali, who started experiencing symptoms on October 7, takes issue with the term “Carleton Cold” because he knows people with strep, the flu and more chest-centered infections, while he suffered from a “more sinus-centered one.” He sees this generalization as inaccurate to the variety of afflictions students are currently experiencing. However, some students believe the “Carleton Cold” is a fitting moniker due to the fact that Carleton students, after having spent an extended period in relative social isolation, are suddenly getting sick due to weakened immune systems. “Everyone’s back together again, and no one has been around this many people in two years,” said Ella Collins ’25, making note of the abrupt reconvening of students in close proximity to each other after a long period of COVID-induced quarantine.
Yackel agrees with Collin’s explanation and adds, “Since we haven’t [been exposed] to common cold viruses in a year and a half, our bodies aren’t as familiar with them, and that’s part of the reason they are hitting us harder—because we don’t have the same immunity buildup.” Yackel notes that there are probably no more colds going around this year than any normal year, but more students are visiting SHAC because of the increased awareness COVID-19 has generated surrounding sickness.
Beyond the Carleton Cold, a few students have been referring to their illness as the “Porch Plague,” in reference to recent parties at the well-known off-campus house. Among many other names which could have caught on, including “Farm Flu” or “Steakhaus Sickness”, some students have deemed Porch House as the leading spreader in the past few weeks. “Being packed into a hot basement with a ton of unmasked drunk people wasn’t the best idea,” said Nwike. “In retrospect, this was essentially a viral breeding ground.”
A current resident of Porch, Kyle Gilbert ’22, pushed back on the idea that Porch is the main spreader. Noting that many houses throw parties on the weekend, he stated: “Porch and the residents of the house are identical to the student body, [we are] all suffering through a wave of fall allergies and seasonal colds.” Still, he regards the nickname lightheartedly: “funny names really are just jokes and all in good spirit.”
One consensus on campus is the incredible inconvenience the “Carleton Cold” has brought forth during midterms. “I wanted to get a lot done over the weekend but this cold has really made it difficult,’’ said Assali. Similarly, Collins was upset that she had to miss two classes and was behind on an essay after a couple of very sick days. Nwike “had to skip classes one day because I couldn’t even get out of bed.” Suffice to say, the cold is no joke and is hurting students’ ability to complete their midterms. Week 5 at Carleton should have students hunkered down with tests and essays, not sickness.
Colds continue to progress around campus, and the general consensus is that “everyone has it” at the moment. Hopefully, most students should recover by the end of Week 6 and can resume their regular activities then. But right now, as Nwike said, “being sick really sucks.”