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.


Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."