COVID-19, the Flu and Seasonal Allergies: Know the difference

A Richmonder receives a COVID-19 vaccine from the Virginia Department of Health at the Arthur Ashe Junior Athletic Center. Photo by Enza Marcy

Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer

With the fall season comes flu season, and during a COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to differentiate between flu symptoms, COVID-19 symptoms or fall allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both COVID-19 and the flu can either cause symptoms or none at all, known as asymptomatic status. Some of the most common shared symptoms of the two respiratory viruses are fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat and body aches, according to the CDC.

Richmond and Henrico Health Districts spokesperson Cat Long noted that individuals who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should get tested for COVID-19.

“Because symptoms of flu, COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses are similar, the difference can’t be determined on symptoms alone,” Long stated in an email. “Testing is needed to tell what the illness is and to confirm a diagnosis.

Symptoms of seasonal fall allergies include itchiness of the eyes, mouth and nose, sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose, according to the Mayo Clinic

On average, COVID-19 symptoms appear five days after infection, where flu symptoms appear one to four days after infection, according to the CDC. In addition, those infected with COVID-19 are more contagious and able to spread the virus for a longer period of time than those with the flu.

Flu vaccines are offered annually, and the best time to receive a flu shot is at the end of September and beginning of October in order to have lasting protection through the peak of flu season, according to Long.

Information compiled by Emma Carlson

Senior political science and homeland security student Avani Verma plans to get a flu shot this fall, and has gotten one through the university in the past. Verma only has one in-person class, and said she would not have been opposed to remaining off campus for finals.

“So many of my classes are already virtual or hybrid, so it wouldn’t make much of a difference to me,” Verma said.

VCU Student Health Services offers free flu shots for students. Although only required for Health Science students, flu shots are recommended for everyone, according to VCU Student Health. Flu shots are especially recommended for those at high risk for serious complications, such as adults over 65, and health factors such as weakened immune systems and asthma, according to the CDC.

Appointments are required to receive a flu shot at VCU. Students can schedule an appointment by logging in to their Student Health Web Portal or calling 804-827-8047.

During the fall 2020 semester, the last day of classes on the Monroe Park campus was Nov. 24, and finals were held remotely throughout Dec. 7, according to the VCU academic calendar.

Alternatively, this year VCU will have a fall break from Nov. 22-28 before the last day of classes on Dec. 13, according to the VCU academic calendar. Finals will be held between Dec. 14-21.

Two weeks after being fully vaccinated, individuals can safely travel and testing and quarantining are not necessary before or after traveling, according to the VDH.

VCU spokesperson Michael Porter said the university’s schedule change came from CDC and Virginia Department of Health recommendations stating fully vaccinated individuals were safe to travel, both domestically and internationally.

“VCU leaders felt it was safe to once again implement a fall break this year because we are now operating in a vaccinated environment, with more than 98.6% of our student body in compliance with the university’s vaccination requirement,” Porter stated in an email.

For more information on symptoms of respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19 and the flu, visit the CDC’s website. Information regarding VCU’s COVID-19 protocols can be found on

Those experiencing respiratory symptoms can find COVID-19 testing locations in Richmond by going to or by calling 804-205-3501.

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