College Kids In Georgia Were Partying Like It’s Not A Pandemic

Listen, I hate to have to use this phrase, but it’s true that we’re all adjusting to a “new normal”, trying to find some semblance of a life in this pandemic that is not going away any time soon. This means we’re all figuring out what types of activities we are comfortable with. Going through my friends’ Instagram stories is like basically watching Judge Judy: some people are dining out at restaurants, some people are subtweeting people who are dining outside and proclaiming they’d never dare, some people are even *gasp* eating inside. Basically, it all runs the gamut from some people doing a thing to other people shading the people who do that thing to other people preaching about how we should all be kind. And while I generally try not to judge people who are following their local ordinances and doing the best they can, there are just certain activities that seem like a bad idea any way you slice it. Case in point: parties. From college students to influencers, from Georgia to New York, people are partying like there’s no tomorrow. And by “tomorrow” I mean “pandemic”.

To be clear, most parties that end up in the news do violate guidelines, like the now-infamous rager at the University of North Georgia that occurred over the weekend, but either way, attending gatherings does pose a risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus. The CDC advises, “The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading.” Parties would certainly qualify, and gatherings where people are coming from out of state and not able to maintain 6 feet distance apart present the highest risk of spreading the virus. So with that in mind, let’s get into what happened in Georgia.

This past weekend, students at the University of North Georgia flocked to the Dahlonega campus in preparation for classes, which start on Monday. Of course, as college kids tend to do, they packed into an outdoor rage-fest outside some off-campus houses with no masks in sight. Currently, gatherings in Georgia are allowed for up to 50 people, but attendees must maintain 6 feet of distance from each other. Now, I was never one of those kids who ever correctly guessed how many jelly beans were in the jar in my elementary school library to win a prize, but this looks like a hell of a lot more than 50 people to me:

And anyone with eyes can see that there is no semblance of distancing happening whatsoever.

UNG released a statement in response to the party, telling Fox 5 Atlanta that while it happened off-campus at privately owned apartments, “We are disappointed that many of our students chose to ignore COVID-19 public health guidance by congregating in a large group without social distancing or face coverings. The University of North Georgia continues to emphasize to our students and university community that everyone has an individual responsibility both on and off campus to follow guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC to prevent the spread of the virus.”

According to the school’s website, UNG offers individuals who are at risk for severe illness with COVID-19 the opportunity “to participate in courses with limited face-to-face contact with other individuals.” Students are encouraged to “screen daily” for symptoms, aka take their temperatures and make sure they can still taste and smell things, and must leave residence halls if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. Students who are symptomatic may be able to get tested on campus. All students, faculty, staff, and visitors are required to wear face coverings inside buildings and facilities where social distancing is not possible.

Georgia currently has over 237,000 COVID cases and more than 4,700 deaths. In the last 2 weeks, Lumpkin County, where Dahlonega is located, reported 116 confirmed cases, with 417 total confirmed cases. Lumpkin county has a population of just under 33,000, and the University of North Georgia had some 19,000 students enroll in 2019. In Georgia, people ages 18-29 currently have the highest number of confirmed cases by far, with 56,275 (people ages 30-39 come in second, with 40,278, so once again, young people, you are not immune). With classes starting on Monday at UNG, I would be very nervous to step foot inside a classroom.

Back in early July, young people in Alabama were caught throwing coronavirus parties in order to deliberately infect each other with the virus, with the first person to test positive winning a payout. Days later, in Florida, reports broke that a 17-year-old girl died after contracting the virus at a church party with about 100 other attendees. And at the end of July, a Chainsmokers concert in the Hamptons drew the ire of the internet as well as Governor Cuomo, plus an investigation from state authorities, when concertgoers were captured on Instagram dancing in close proximity and not social distancing. And within the last few days, an entire off-campus sorority house at Oklahoma State University is being quarantined after 23 Pi Phis tested positive for COVID-19. The cases were not necessarily linked to a party, but more likely to school being back in session and the start of sorority recruitment.

As many colleges resume in-person classes, the rest of us fear an accompanying rise in COVID-19 cases as social distancing, sanitizing, and mask measures are proving hard to enforce. And certainly not helping matters is college kids throwing parties. I know that’s like, college kids’ whole thing, but can you just not? I have never been to a UNG party, but I can assure you with full confidence that no party is worth it.

Images: Rob Hainer / Shutterstock; GAFollowers / Twitter

How Not To Be A D*ck When Coming Out Of Quarantine

After 95694845 days of quarantine (I lost count), our collective #QuarantineClub efforts have not been in vain. And now I’m actually seeing other humans IRL (yay!) out and about. We’re getting our lives back in this so-called “new normal” and cautiously doing all right in Phase 3 with non-essential businesses opening up. Parts of New York are allegedly even entering Phase 4, but that seems too good to be true.

The light at the end of the tunnel seems to be within our reach, but remember—it’s a marathon, not a sprint. All things considered, we can keep up our momentum so long as a few bad apples don’t f*ck over the entire cart. Unfortunately, parts of the U.S. are experiencing just that—sheer amounts of stupidity (i.e. COVID-19 parties… seriously, WTF Alabama??).

Extreme cases aside, I understand that at this point, you’re saying to yourself “omg, I’m so over COVID-19. O-VeR. IT.” And I get it. 2020 is canceled. The pandemic was not exactly what we wanted for summer. But think about how the frontline workers must feel? My close friend Mira MacLeod, a Registered Nurse who works in the COVID-19 ward of a major Toronto hospital (which was also the same converted facility used to treat the first SARS patients) said, “hell (lol) I’M OVeR IT. If anyone has COVID fatigue, it’s me, girl.” 

So for her sake and for every one of these caregiving heroes, when it comes to our collective health, reckless behavior is inexcusable. In fact, it’s NOT okay when you decide to be a d*ck by not wearing a mask in a shared public space and jeopardize the lives of others. Additionally, I honestly feel like the warm weather must be frying off some of the common sense in some people’s brains. I guess when you throw sunny skies and balmy weather into the mix, it’s like everyone suddenly forgot that there’s still a deadly pandemic in our presence which, may I remind you, still has the power to come back to bite us again (like it did to South Korea and their second wave) and force us back into our homes.

Do the people begging for stuff to reopen not realize that means having to wear a bra on a regular basis?

*shudders*

— The Salty Mamas (@saltymamas) May 17, 2020

In light of people filling up their social calendars once again and taking to the city streets, the Department of Health released some guidelines on how we can all be safe when gathering together and dining out. However, what these documents neglect to state or inform us about is how the heck these rules will be consistently enforced. Mayor Bill de Blasio is essentially telling us all of this is based on “trust” and calling people out when you see them breaking the rules. Basically like “if you see something, say something.” While that’s definitely one way of approaching it, despite reporting the situation, the damage will have already been done.

Dr. Sidney Chiu, an emergency doctor at North York General Hospital, reminds us that we must each do our part and continue to take initiatives in safeguarding our community. Furthermore, we made it this far in flattening the curve—let’s not f*ck it up folks! Here are useful guidelines to keep in mind:

When In Doubt, Wear A Mask

MacLeod says that if you want to be safe, you should wear a mask indoors—even if the business doesn’t state that it’s mandatory. “You should be wearing one in confined spaces like at the grocery store, on the transit system, or at a retail store—places where you’re touching a lot of things.” You should be wearing disposable rubber and/or plastic gloves for this as well (think clothing items, transit railing, etc).

Wear A Mask When Walking On The Sidewalk

MacLeod says her major pet peeve is when people don’t walk around each other on the sidewalk: “It irks me that some just don’t care and/or take liberties. They walk by you in close proximity, and this is particularly troublesome when there are small children nearby.” As a mom of two kids, this is especially triggering for her. So she advises that when you see someone approaching, go around them, if you can. Remember, social distancing means you should be six feet apart, which is further than you think.

There Is Still NO Vaccine

“Just based on how I’m seeing some people behave, I think many believe that the pandemic has mostly passed—and that’s certainly not the situation. The reality is that although we’ve passed the first wave, we are constantly at risk of new cases,” MacLeod says. She adds that precautionary measures should be as routine as checking for your wallet, phone and keys before leaving the house. “A mask, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer (making sure that it contains 60-95 percent alcohol), and disinfecting wipes should all be a part of your ‘toolkit,’” which means that these items should be considered part of your “new normal” for the foreseeable future. If you’re forgetful, a good strategy is to set up a daily pop-up alert on your phone to remind yourself of these essential items. Or consider keeping it all in a stylish bag near your door. 

No Hugging Or Shaking Hands

“This is tough, understandably, because we are by nature, social creatures,” explains Dr. Chiu.  He adds that “in lieu of physical touching, air hugs/air high fives, or toe tapping is better than exposing any part of your body to someone else. You just don’t want to run the risk.” As a friendly reminder, he says that COVID-19 is spread through droplets and/or physical contact. “Just think that when you’re embracing someone and that close face-to-face, any number of things could happen: coughing, sneezing—even talking and breathing could aid in transmission.” He adds that what could then theoretically occur is that even though it appears that “nothing happened” during the hug, since you effectively touched that person, you could then absentmindedly touch your mouth, nose and eyes, thereby spreading the virus.

Just Because They “Look Healthy” Doesn’t Mean They Are

“We always assume there are obvious visual cues to someone being ill. However this is certainly not the case when someone is asymptomatic and can transmit the virus to you,” says Dr. Chiu, who adds that these individuals may not even be aware they have COVID-19. “So for your sake, it’s better to err on the side of caution and to wear a mask whatever the social situation may be.” Another scary and not-so-fun fact from him: “the chance of a test detecting COVID-19 is very low if you are asymptomatic, and it is unlikely to be helpful in determining if you have COVID-19 if you have zero symptoms.”

Invest In Anti-Technology For Your Sunnies

Dr. Chiu says that “I’ve heard some people complain about their sun/glasses getting fogged up due to the mask wearing.” To remedy this, he says to do the following: “mold your mask to the bridge of your nose, tighten the mask, or simply invest in some anti-fog spray or wipes which will do the trick nicely (and you should be prepping all of this before you leave your home).” This is an overlooked issue but an important one, and he explains that “you want to minimize the amount of time touching your face. If your glasses are fogged/smudged, etc and you’re constantly readjusting them, you’re increasing your chances of exposure.”

Invest In An Automatic Soap Dispenser

When returning home, immediately wash your hands with hot soapy water before doing anything else (the CDC advises you do this within 20 seconds of entering your home.). To avoid contamination, MacLeod advises people to get one of those automated hand soap dispensers.” Additionally, she says that bar soaps are a big no-no because bacteria and germs CAN survive on them (ewwww).

And in terms of venturing out in the world à la Oh, The Places You’ll Go Post-Pandemic (!), here are a few tips and best practices to be mindful of in the following social scenarios:

Restaurants/Patios

If available to you, always opt to use the restaurant’s QR code, which allows you to see the menu on your smartphone rather than touching paper. An exception to this is if you have a visual impairment and require a hard copy.

Wearing a mask while dining in a patio/restaurant space isn’t required (cuz um, how else can you eat that food if your mouth is covered?!); however, you should absolutely wear one when walking to your table and using well-ventilated washroom facilities (which are 99% of the time located inside of a confined restaurant space). 

Another food-related issue is regarding pick-up and take-out: you just grab the order and go. Don’t linger and/or congregate on the sidewalks.

Hosting Gatherings/Cookouts

The CDC recommends that if you’re welcoming people into your home for, say, a BBQ cookout (specifically an outdoor space like the backyard) to consider keeping a guestbook of attendees for contact tracing needs. Disposable but recycle-friendly cutlery, plates, and cups should be used in lieu of the silverware you have at home.

Parks/Beaches/Outdoor Venues

Both Dr. Chiu and MacLeod say that if you can, visit these spaces on a weekday when it’s less crowded. “Because it’s an outdoor setting, it’s technically safer than, say, a shopping mall because these types of places are conducive to offering more room and fresh air.” For any communal seating (such as park benches and beach chairs), use hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes prior to use. 

Individual Appointments (Including, But Not Limited To, Dental And Medical Offices, Nail Salons, And Hair Salons)

Ensure that it’s not a walk-in situation, and whenever possible, book your appointment in advance. If you’re feeling uncertain, ask what sorts of protocols the business or service has implemented, such as adequate HEPA filters/ventilation, PPEs, and plexiglass barriers to minimize the risk of exposure. When you do arrive for your appointment, wait outside and arrange for the staff to text or give you a call when they’re ready for you. Lastly, if you know you have to fill out any documentation, bring your own pen—don’t use the communal ones supplied at the office/salon. 

Final Thoughts

With all the news and Karen-shaming, I’d like to think that the majority of us are better than that. However, we’re all human and can still be prone to slipping up once in a while. So I recommend screenshotting this handy color-coded infographic to act as your “pocket guide” if you are ever uncertain about venturing into a specific social situation. It’s nice that we can FINALLY see our loved ones IRL again, so let’s not take any of it for granted and remember to be considerate of each other by adhering to these practical and safe protocols.

Images: Gustavo Fring / Pexels; Giphy (2); Twitter / @saltymamas

People In Alabama Are Having Coronavirus Parties To Get Infected On Purpose

In news that could not be more quintessentially Alabama, CNN reports that some young people in Tuscaloosa are holding coronavirus parties in order to purposely infect themselves with the virus. Truthfully, not a single word in that sentence surprised me, except maybe the fact that Florida was not involved. Congrats guys, it wasn’t you this time!

In a presentation to City Council members, Fire Chief Randy Smith explained that there is a trend amongst young people in Tuscaloosa where they’re throwing ticketed parties to catch coronavirus, and the first person to get a confirmed positive test wins a payout from the ticket sales. So this is like a coronavirus party-meets-pyramid scheme. Great! Council Member Sonya McKinstry said that there have been several parties in Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas in the past few weeks, and they confirmed with doctor’s offices that these are actually real. And this is why we can’t have nice things (and why other countries are literally banning us).

The city is reportedly working on breaking up these parties, and also passed a mask ordinance that will go into effect on Monday. It will require adults and children over the age of 8 (parents will have discretion with children aged 2-8) to wear face masks in all public places, including inside businesses, on public transportation, and at outdoor gatherings with 10 or more people. It will be in effect for at least the next 30 days, and those who violate the law face a $25 fine.

Though it seems like a special breed of stupid, the idea of hosting a gathering with the express purpose of exposing guests to a virus is not actually new. Beginning in the 1970s and 80s, parents would set up “chickenpox parties” for their children in the hopes that they would contract chickenpox sooner rather than later. Today, however, the CDC “strongly recommends against hosting or participating in these events,” urging parents that the chickenpox is a serious disease that can cause severe complications and even death, even in healthy children (hmm, where have I heard this before?). The CDC adds that since there’s no way to tell how severe a child’s symptoms will be, “it is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease.”

While for most people, the CDC says, one-time exposure to chickenpox grants immunity for life, when it comes to COVID-19, we’re really not sure yet, which makes having these immunity parties extra dangerous. According to Mayo Clinic, “It isn’t yet clear if infection with the COVID-19 virus makes a person immune to future infection.” We also don’t know yet if having the antibodies protects someone from re-infection. Dr. Dyan Hes, founder of Gramercy Pediatrics, tells Betches, “Currently, we really do not know if there is COVID-19 immunity at all.” Cool cool cool cool cool. While some people who contract the virus do get antibodies, she says, “Studies show that many patients lose their COVID-19 specific IgG antibodies within weeks to months after their infection. Other studies show that patients with mild infection or asymptomatic patients never mounted an IgG response with antibodies.”

And just to scare you even further, Dr. Hes adds, “We do not know if the antibodies are protective, and this is a problem. Many people who have antibodies assume that they cannot be susceptible to the virus again,” but this is not necessarily true. She advises, “The moral of the story is that everyone should still be wearing a face mask, follow social distancing guidelines, hand wash frequently, and use hand sanitizer when washing is not an option.”

But, I hate to have to break this to you, it’s not only Alabama. The New York Times reported that on June 17, well after large gatherings were banned, a group of about 100 people attended a party in Rockland County, NY. (In fact, the state order at the time limited gatherings to 10 people.) The host of the party apparently showed symptoms of being sick at the time of the event and, along with eight guests, later tested positive for COVID-19.

Rockland County officials deployed contact tracers to see who else may have been exposed at the party and found that guests were refusing to speak with officials or outright denying they were at the party. Officials were forced to subpoena eight people they believe were at the party, and those who refuse to cooperate will face fines of $2,000 per day. Stupid and stubborn! Tracers were also concerned about two other parties in New York City on June 20 and 27 that may have had some guest overlap with the Rockland County party.

BuT wHaT aBoUt ThE pRoTeStS? While you’re right, Karen, that experts worried that the mass protests would cause a surge in virus cases—Dr. Fauci called them a “perfect set-up” for the virus and L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti was concerned they would become “super-spreader” events—so far, this has shown not to be the case. In New York City, there has not yet been an uptick in coronavirus cases, despite the large protests that have been continuing for weeks. Experts are attributing this to a variety of factors, including but not limited to: protests being held outside as opposed to inside; protesters marching at a brisk pace, not remaining stagnant, and wearing masks; protesters being younger and therefore less likely to show serious symptoms; and even just dumb luck.

And, a new working paper from researchers at Bentley University, the University of Colorado Denver, and San Diego State University analyzed data from 315 American cities and compared incidences of COVID-19 in 281 cities where large protests were held to the 34 cities in which they were not, and found that protests had no significant effect on COVID-19. They attribute this surprising finding to the fact that protests may have actually caused an increase in people who stayed at home. In other words, maybe people who would have otherwise been out and about stayed at home so as to avoid the protests.

Even though it’s July 4th weekend and the urge to party might be tempting, I’m going to take a page from Coach Carr’s playbook and say, “just don’t do it, ok, promise?” And before you go sh*tting on Alabama, Florida, or any other states, just remember that recklessness isn’t limited to one part of the country, and that the U.S. is the Alabama of the world right now.

Image: Kyle Smith / Unsplash