A college town COVID outbreak shows why 'infect the young, protect the vulnerable' won't work

The current COVID-19 "strategy" from the White House appears to be to push for theoretical "herd immunity" by letting the virus spread among the young and healthy population while protecting the elderly and immunocompromised until a certain (genuinely unknown) threshold is reached. Despite many infectious disease experts and some of the world's largest medical institutions decrying the idea as "a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence," and "practically impossible and highly unethical," the radiologist Trump added to his pandemic team is trying to convince people it's a grand plan.

Aside from the fact that we don't know enough about the natural immunity of this virus and the fact that "herd immunity" is a term used in vaccine science—not as a strategy of purposefully infecting people in order to get through an infectious disease outbreak —the idea of "infect the young, protect the vulnerable" is simply an unworkable strategy.

Look no further than the outbreak among the college student population in Pullman, Washington to see why.



Pullman, the largest town in rural Whitman County, is home to Washington State University, with the 20,000+ student population making up nearly half the county's population.

Pullman and Whitman County kept the pandemic under control for a long time. The pandemic shutdown in March hit right around spring break at the university, and most students just stayed at their respective homes for the remaining two months of the school year in the spring. The county saw its first COVID-19 case on March 22, and over the next five months, there would be a tiny trickle of cases, with no hospitalizations and no deaths. Whitman County even had a three-week period with no new cases over the summer and was able to move to a new phase of reopening early.

As of August 20, there had been 138 cases total in Whitman County. No hospitalizations, no deaths. Washington's pandemic response plan was working. Things were under control.

Then the students started returning to Pullman.

Even though WSU was holding all classes online, an estimated 12,000+ students came back to town anyway at the end of August. Some couldn't get out of leases they'd signed. Some had no other place else to live. Some just wanted to come and have the college party experience, despite the governor's ban on gatherings of more than 10.

And party they did. Reports of parties on Greek Row and in housing near the campus, with no masks and no distancing, poured in. In two weeks, cases in the county quadrupled, then kept climbing. Pullman was ranked by the New York Times' coronavirus tracker as the #1 hotspot in the nation in mid-September.

By October 5, the county had 1614 cases—a more than 1000% increase in 7 weeks.

But because nearly all of the cases were college-aged, there were only a couple of hospitalizations and no deaths. More than six months after its first case, Whitman County still hadn't seen a COVID death, even with this outbreak among the students. These statistics would have been a perfect argument for "let it spread through the young and healthy" idea—right up until it wasn't.

A few weeks ago, the ages of the new cases started shifting and Pullman saw a sudden influx of hospitalizations. The first death came on October 6. There have been eight more since then.

Let me repeat that. Whitman County went from zero COVID deaths in nearly seven months to nine COVID deaths in two weeks.

That may not seem like a huge number to those in large cities, but it's a stunning increase in a small, rural county that had had the virus under control. And yes, these deaths were all in the over-60 age group—because you can't keep widespread infection among the young and healthy from infecting the vulnerable. You just can't.

The virus is now in Whitman County's long-term care facilities. Cases are also showing up in the hospital staff. It's not like those populations weren't already being protected—this is just how outbreaks work. An large increase in cases just among one age group leads to more opportunities for more people to become infected, which leads to an even greater increase in cases among the whole community, etc. The virus is indiscriminate in who it infects, and it's virtually impossible to create perfect bubbles of groups that don't overlap with one another.

Pullman's current situation started with carefree college students acting like things were "back to normal," partying with no masks and no social distancing. And now it has spread into the community that had done such a good job of keeping it at bay—exactly what residents worried would happen if and when the students returned.

Yes, this is anecdotal, but it's reality. Protecting the vulnerable requires protecting the whole community as much as possible. That doesn't necessarily mean we have to lock everything down for years—it means we need to choose what stays and what goes wisely and do things as safely as possible, with distancing and masks and handwashing and not holding group activities.

It means not buying into magical thinking that we can somehow push the virus through the less vulnerable population without killing people unnecessarily. We are seeing how that thinking plays out in real time in Whitman County.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around 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 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.