A pandemic prep expert's poop-in-the-pool analogy explains people's concerns with reopening

As the U.S. begins to reopen after two months of shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, people are understandably concerned.

Well, some people are. Some people seem to think that the shift to reopening the economy means the virus has miraculously disappeared, that 100,000 Americans dead while we were in lockdown is nothing to worry about, and that those of us who are wary about people going back out into the public are a bunch of fear-mongering worry warts.

Jeremy Konyndyk, global outbreak preparedness and humanitarian response expert and former director of USAID's Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, offered an explanation on Twitter for the folks who don't seem to understand the concern—"a short analogy about pooping and accountability."



Konyndyk wrote:

"Alright. There is a LOT of chatter on this website bashing those who are saying most of the country still isn't ready for a safe reopening. So, as we approach what would normally be summer pool season, here's a short analogy about pooping and accountability.

Imagine you're at the pool, and a kid poops in the water. It happens a few times every summer. What happens next? Everybody clears the pool. That's the initial step to protect people from the poop.

But it's not the end of the story.

There's a next step - some poor soul on pool staff has to go fish out the poop. It's a pretty thankless job.

Then they have to shock the pool with chlorine to kill off bacteria.

And then everyone waits half an hour or so til it's safe to swim again.

You can see where I'm going with this.

If the lifeguards tell everyone to clear the pool, but the pool staff declines to actually get rid of the poop, what happens?

No one can go back in. The poop is still there. Limbo.

Whose fault is it that it's not safe to go back in the water? Who is accountable?

Do you focus on the people saying "clean up the poop before we can go back in safely!"?

Or do you focus on the staff whose job it is to clean up the poop?

And what would you think if the staff started saying - look, just get back in. Be a warrior.

The answer is pretty obvious.

So right now, our country is a big swimming pool with a poop problem.

And the President, rather than fix the mess, is urging everyone back into the pool regardless and saying the 'real' problem is those people who think the pool's not safe yet. They must hate the pool, etc.

And a lot of the public is buying it!!

The President's whole play here is to distract from his failure to fix the mess by focusing the country's attention on people who don't want to swim in a pooped-in pool.

He wants you to believe they're saying you should never go back in.

And if you buy that, he's off the hook. He doesn't have to clean up the poop, and he doesn't get blamed for failing to do so. Win-win for him.

But NO ONE is saying 'never go back in the pool.' They're saying - please clean out the poop first.

Everyone wants to get back in the pool. Everyone wants to reopen the country.

And if you're frustrated that we can't, please hold the right folks accountable. The problem isn't the people saying we need to reopen 'safely.'

It's the people saying needn't bother with that part."

Exactly. Without getting cases down to a level where robust testing, tracing, and quarantining procedures will enable us to contain outbreaks when and where they occur, we're just heading into a poop-contaminated pool.

And Konyndyk is right—all of us want the economy to reopen. We all recognize the fact that people are suffering and unemployment is terrible and that lockdowns with no end in sight are not sustainable. However, opening up too quickly and before we have the necessary measures in place to get a handle on outbreaks as they occur will simply put us back to where we were two months ago—facing a pandemic with the potential to injure and kill huge numbers of people. If we just toss up our hands now and say, "Welp, whatever happens happens—if people die, oh well," we will have tanked the economy for no reason.

Let's at least get the poop out of the pool before we start inviting people back in. Reopening is going to have to happen at some point, in some measure, but if we don't do it slowly and safely, we're just asking for a crappier outcome in the long run.


Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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