Fewer masks = more colds. Be tested to be sure what you have

Daniel Larlham Jr.Headlines, Health


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Health officials say anyone with an upper respiratory infection should be tested to see whether it’s COVID-19. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels


“Frat flu” and “freshman flu” are two terms making a comeback on the University of Delaware campus in Newark.

Those descriptions for a simple cold or flu are being bandied about again after taking a hiatus last year because so many students were not on campus and those that were wore masks, social distanced and used hand sanitizers religiously.

All of that prevented the spread of colds and flus, as well as COVID-19.

“Last year in the middle of the pandemic when everyone was masked 24/7, we saw very little upper respiratory infection,” said Dr. Jack Horowitz of Newark Urgent Care Center. “But now we’re back to the normal state of colds.”

Because cold symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are so similar, people are taking the common cold much more seriously, he said.

Here’s a comparison of some of the symptoms:

  • COVID-19 and the common cold can both come with the symptoms of cough, fever, tiredness, congestion, sore throat and muscle aches or pains.
  • The common cold and the flu can come with similar symptoms as cough, tiredness, congestion, sore throat and body aches.
  • The flu and COVID-19 share symptoms of common cough, fever, tiredness, congestion, sore throat, muscle aches and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Diarrhea sometimes occurs with COVID-19, but never with colds and flus. 
  • While vomiting can occur with COVID-19, diarrhea is unusual and never occurs with cold and flu for adults, but occasionally does in children.
  • Loss of taste and smell has been a tell-tale symptom of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic but can also occur among those with a runny or stuffy nose, but rarely happens in flu cases.
  • Symptoms of both COVID-19 and the flu usually occur abruptly while cold symptoms tend to form gradually. 
COVID graph 1

Based on Information from MayoClinic.com. Graphic by Charlie Megginson.


Telling the difference between a cold and COVID-19 is even more complicated now that many individuals are vaccinated. If someone who is vaccinated has a breakthrough case, it’s likely to be mild and more like a cold.

“If you’re really sick — fever, body aches, loss of smell — you’re usually going to be unvaccinated,” Horowitz said.” It’s pretty clear when those people come in, we can discern who has COVID.”

Horowitz, a state Department of Public Health spokeswoman and a University of Delaware spokeswoman all say anyone who has cold-like symptoms should be tested for COVID-19 to be sure. 

“There’s so much overlap between the cold and COVID that we recommend students to get testing if they have any symptoms,” said UD spokeswoman Andrea Boyle Tippet. 

Students at UD can get tested on campus four days a week or at pharmacies any day of the week. 

Horowitz said flu will probably spread this year, and the State of Delaware pointed out Monday that October is the start of flu season, which usually lasts into the spring.

“The reason I say probably is because we had the same concern last year, but in fact the flu season was extremely mild,” Horowitz said. “Usually, we have thousands of flu patients, last year we had a dozen, maybe. It’s because everyone was masked and social distancing, so I’m not sure what to expect this year.”

He, the state and the university are all encouraging students to get a flu vaccine around the middle of October to ensure the vaccine last all the way through flu season. 

The best way someone can protect themselves, Horowitz said, is to get both the flu vaccination and the COVID-19 vaccination.

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