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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.

Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via Dion Merrick / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.09.21


At 1:30 am on Monday morning an AMBER Alert went out in southern Louisiana about a missing 10-year-old girl from New Iberia. It was believed she had been kidnapped and driven away in a 2012 silver Nissan Altima.

A few hours later at 7 am, Dion Merrick and Brandon Antoine, sanitation workers for Pelican Waste, were on their daily route when they noticed a vehicle that fit the description in the alert.

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Joy

Nurse turns inappropriate things men say in the delivery room into ‘inspirational’ art

"Can you move to the birthing ball so I can sleep in the bed?"

Holly the delivery nurse.

After working six years as a labor and delivery nurse Holly, 30, has heard a lot of inappropriate remarks made by men while their partners are in labor. “Sometimes the moms think it’s funny—and if they think it’s funny, then I’ll laugh with them,” Holly told TODAY Parents. “But if they get upset, I’ll try to be the buffer. I’ll change the subject.”

Some of the comments are so wrong that she did something creative with them by turning them into “inspirational” quotes and setting them to “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton on TikTok.

“Some partners are hard to live up to!” she jokingly captioned the video.

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