If I've got a sore throat do I keep calm and carry on?

Teachers often have sore throats at the start of a year – but now we must be vigilant with sickness, says Louise Lewis

Louise Lewis

Coronavirus: Lots of teachers get sore throats at this time of year - but now we wonder if it might be something more sinister

Welcome back, folks. The smiles, the interactions, the learning: a thing of beauty to behold now we have returned, in whatever strange guise it may be. 

But lurking in the sidelines, ready to catch you unawares, is the regular face of the return to school. Yes: say hello to the sore throat

Laryngitis, tonsillitis and pretty much any other “itis” you can mention are all occupational hazards. We generally expect them at some point. But the surge in throat complaints since the start of the academic year has been surprising. For many, after six months of working from home, teaching online and not having to project your voice, the vocal physique is a little out of shape. 

Are people suffering more because they are out of practice? Talking about it more, in case it is a symptom of Covid? Or have we just got used to not being ill quite so frequently, since schools were forced to shut to most pupils?

Coronavirus or just a sore throat?

You know immediately when a sore throat begins to rear its head. There’s that scratchy feeling, the lump in your throat, the cup of tea that just does not quite lubricate the vocal cords quite as well as it should. Then the final sign: the croak.

In previous years, many of us would simply have turned a blind eye and ploughed on, without a second thought. Lozenges, a warm drink and paracetamol are enough. 

But, of course, all this has changed. Every sign and symptom is now being scrutinised. Is this the beginning of something more sinister? Is my temperature too high? Am I coughing because I’ve just sprayed my deodorant or is there an alternative explanation?

Many teachers and school staff are analysing their ailments, for fear of being the origin of a Covid outbreak in their school or bubble. No one wants to be responsible for someone else being ill, especially with the potential consequences of this specific viral transmission. And no teacher wants to be responsible for a child losing days of their education. So we are currently stuck in Catch-22. 

Should I call in sick?

Given the current test, track and trace crisis that we are facing in the UK, and the difficulty in being able to access testing at home – or within 300 miles of your home – many school staff are faced with the agonising decision: is my sore throat symptomatic of the return to school? Do I ignore it?

Should I be hypercautious and await the onslaught of additional symptoms and the painstaking delay of a test, adding to the burden of school leaders and facing the possible hysteria of concerned individuals – otherwise known as calling in sick? 

This year, teacher illnesses will face more probing than ever before. No longer can we rely on the “keep calm and carry on” attitude we’ve always had.

Instead, we will need to align ourselves with other professions, take absence when we are ill, and just learn to deal with the inevitable guilt that ensues. 

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets @MissLLewis 

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