Yale Health sees “unprecedented” number of visits and calls this fall
As an unidentified virus circulates among the student population, students are running into issues with missing classes with no uniform absence policy in place.
Vaibhav Sharma, Photo Editor
Dubbed the “Yale Plague,” a non-COVID-19 sickness has spread throughout the student body. Yalies infected with the illness have struggled to make up content for missed classes.
A large number of students have reported experiencing flu symptoms in recent weeks — with triage calls to Yale Student Health this month up 40 percent from Sept. 2019, according to Chief of Student Health Christine Chen. Per the University’s COVID-19 guidelines, students with flu-like symptoms are advised to stay in their room and self-isolate until they receive a negative COVID-19 test. When students fall ill, they are therefore forced to miss class for at least a day, if not more.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented number of visits, calls, and communications via [MyChart] this fall,” Chen wrote in an email to the News. “Though we continue to see COVID-19 cases, the virus that has been circulating among students appears to be something else.”
Yale’s student outpatient clinic currently has tests for COVID-19, influenza, strep and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Chen said that Student Health has seen no influenza cases and “sporadic” cases of strep. A weekly report on epidemic and seasonal viruses detected by labs at the Yale School of Medicine can be found here.
Chen suggested that part of the increase in demand for clinic services can be attributed to an increased student population for this academic year. Still, she asked students to protect themselves from the circulating sickness with now-familiar pandemic precautions, like mask-wearing and social distancing. She also urged all students to sign up for mandatory flu vaccines as soon as possible, calling the approaching influenza season a “great concern.”
As sickness continues to spread, the News spoke to four students who expressed concerns about the difficulties of missing class while sick.
The University has no official guidelines available online regarding class accommodations — instead, this is left to the discretion of individual faculty members. Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd referred the News to a Sept. 28 announcement on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences website.
“It is a reality that, with winter approaching, some students will become ill with colds or flu,” officials told all undergraduate and graduate school faculty. “Without reasonable absence policies, students may elect to attend class while sick, exposing others to illnesses. To avoid incentivizing attendance when students are ill, we urge flexibility.”
Professors cannot block students from attending class based on apparent illnesses; instead, they are asked to reference course policy suggestions issued by the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning and are permitted to offer remote instruction options for students who fall ill.
Still, three students reported that missing classes is more inconvenient than expected, as they struggle to find recorded lectures or uploaded slides.
“I can understand why [my professor was] reluctant [to record the lecture], as implementing this involves more technological infrastructure, setup and might encourage more people to not attend class,” said Matt Shu ’25, who recently missed a class due to a sore throat and cough. “However, the alternative is that [this] has been the only one of my classes where you continuously hear people cough throughout the lecture.”
Shu said that while his seminar professors accommodated his absence – they allowed him to make up discussion leader duties another day and attend Zoom office hours — professors who taught lectures had been less flesible. While two of Shu’s three lectures were recorded, his third class — “Discrete Mathematics,” taught by professor of mathematics Richard Kenyon — was not.
According to Shu, he emailed his professor earlier in the year requesting that classes be recorded both because he believed that he could learn math more easily asynchronously and because he thought lecture recordings would allow sick students to make up for missed content without having to rely on borrowed notes or the textbook. The professor denied his request.
“I’m not in principle against recording my classes (although there is a certain start-up barrier to figuring out how to use the recording equipment properly….but as far as I know [that] might be very easy),” Kenyon wrote in an email to the News. “If many students asked me to, I would certainly do it.”
Kenyon also expressed reluctance to consistently record lectures because he believes that it would reduce the number of students who show up to class, which could lead to a decrease in class participation and less content covered.
“I feel like a lot of learning happens through interaction, which you can’t get with a recorded lecture,” Kenyon said.
Some students, like Angela Zhao ’25, have found creative ways to make up for missed classes. When Zhao had to miss an unrecorded class due to sickness, she asked a friend to record it for her so that she could still access the content.
Still, students reported feeling unsafe in classes that made no accommodations for sick students, as people showed up even while exhibiting symptoms. Chase Finney ’23 reached out to her professor with a concern similar to Shu’s.
When she found herself sitting next to three “clearly sick people” in that day’s lecture, Finney was concerned that students were attending class even when they had the potential to spread COVID-19. But when Finney reached out to her professor requesting that the lecture be recorded, the professor denied her request.
“I understood that the professor’s inaccessible teaching style might’ve been preventing students from staying home, so I reached out to the professor explaining my concern for my health and safety in the class and asking her to reconsider her stance on refusing to post the lecture slides or record the lectures,” said Finney. “The professor’s response … was upsetting, to say the least. Not only did she dismiss my worries about the health and safety of students in the class, she doubled down on her stance, claiming to have consulted a patent lawyer to back up her policy.”
In an email to Finney, the professor, who Finney declined to name, said that recordings discouraged participation for “inexcusable reasons,” and were also potentially in violation of copyright laws.
The professor added that students who were sick were encouraged to stay home and that they could reach out to teaching fellows and the professor herself should they need to catch up. The professor also commented that masks lowered the likelihood of transmission.
“Refusing to post lecture slides on the basis of possible copyright violation is preposterous, and in light of increasing concern about accessibility at Yale, an unnecessarily insensitive excuse,” Finney told the News.
Like Finney, Tiffany Toh ’25 has noticed an increase in the number of sick students in her classes. She added that has heard “like 20 different people” coughing during lectures or exams and that nearly all of her classmates have been sick in the last three weeks.
Toh described her recent Physics 180 midterm exam.
“There were like 300 people in the lecture hall and we didn’t have a single consecutive minute without someone coughing,” said Toh.
Sick students can visit Yale Health at 55 Lock St.