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Twins, valedictorians, graduates: Altoona siblings stick together in academia

Morgan and Riley Parks’ high school careers haven’t looked exactly the same, with different sports teams and different extracurriculars.

But the twins, who have attended Altoona schools since kindergarten, are sticking together even as they graduate as valedictorians of the Altoona High School class of 2020. This fall, they hope to continue their studies in the STEM field at UW-Madison.

Morgan, 18, said she and her brother Riley weren’t shooting for the valedictorian honor, but it was “sort of a bonus.”

Having her brother in many of the same classes meant a built-in study buddy — and a good person to bounce ideas off.

“You don’t have to go anything alone,” Morgan said. “We decided to take a class at North High School because it wasn’t offered at Altoona. I was really nervous because I didn’t know any of the kids there. I had him; I didn’t have to do it alone.”

Todd Lenz, an Altoona High School teacher who coached both siblings in cross-country for several years, said Morgan and Riley’s bond is visible.

“Sometime it’s really funny watching them do it, because they can get on each other as brother and sister too. But they use each other to help understand things,” Lenz said. “That’s kind of a gift.”

Morgan and Riley were persistent to excel in sports as well, Morgan in varsity track, Riley in varsity baseball, among others.

But one of the siblings’ biggest challenges in high school was advanced placement classes, which cemented both Morgan and Riley’s interest in science-related fields, they said.

“They just really have a drive to understand things. They’re great at asking questions and pursuing something until they truly understand it. It’s not just about getting a grade,” said Lenz, who also taught both siblings in AP biology.

Studying for AP classes during their final two years in high school — with a glut of snow days in early 2019 and schools closing completely in mid-March — was “probably the hardest,” Riley said.

“The biggest obstacle was overcoming expectations for myself and learning to not expect to be perfect,” Morgan said. “That’s impossible. Learning to be okay with and be proud of what I could accomplish.”

In the fall, the twins will attend UW-Madison. Morgan is undeclared but is considering a major in biomedical engineering; Riley plans a degree in biochemistry or molecular biology.

They’ve known since high school that they wanted to study science, both said.

Both are disappointed that schools had to close in the middle of their senior year but are pragmatic about the future. Their fellow high school students should “enjoy every moment you have,” Morgan said.

“Just enjoy all this free time that you’ve been given,” Riley said. “Do something you enjoy, but also don’t forget to do your homework.”

Masked patrons stroll Saturday by the temporarily masked “Granny’s Garden” sculpture that greets visitors to the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market in Phoenix Park. Saturday was opening day of the market’s 2020 season, and several safety measures were in place to guard against the spread of the new coronavirus.

AP featured
U.S., European leaders weigh reopening decisions

NEW YORK — On a weekend when many pandemic-weary people emerged from weeks of lockdown, leaders in the U.S. and Europe weighed the risks and rewards of lifting COVID-19 restrictions knowing that a vaccine could take years to develop.

In separate stark warnings, two major European leaders bluntly told their citizens that the world needs to adapt to living with the coronavirus and cannot wait to be saved by a vaccine.

“We are confronting this risk, and we need to accept it, otherwise we would never be able to relaunch,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said, acceding to a push by regional leaders to allow restaurants, bars and beach facilities to open Monday, weeks ahead of an earlier timetable.

The warnings from Conte and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came as governments worldwide and many U.S. states struggled with restarting economies blindsided by the pandemic.

With 36 million newly unemployed in the U.S. alone, economic pressures are building even as authorities acknowledge that reopening risks setting off new waves of infections and deaths. In the U.S., images of crowded bars, beaches and boardwalks suggested some weren’t heeding warnings to safely enjoy reopened spaces while limiting the risks of spreading infection.

Britain’s Johnson, who was hospitalized last month with a serious bout of COVID-19, speculated Sunday that a vaccine may not be developed at all, despite the huge global effort to produce one. Health experts say the world could be months, if not years, away from having a vaccine available to everyone.

“There remains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vaccine might not come to fruition,” Johnson wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

The coronavirus has infected over 4.6 million people and killed more than 314,000 worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say under counts the true toll of the pandemic. The U.S. has reported over 89,000 dead and Europe has seen at least 160,000 deaths.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death.

Some experts noted recent infection surges in Texas, including a 1,800-case jump Saturday, with Amarillo identified as a growing hot spot. Texas officials said increased testing was playing a big role — the more you look for something, the more you find it. Many are watching hospitalizations and death rates in the weeks ahead to see exactly what the new Texas numbers really mean.

But Texas was one of the earliest states to allow stores and restaurants to reopen, and some experts worry it is a sign of the kind of outbreak re-ignition that might occur when social distancing and other prevention measures are loosened or ignored.

Dr. Michael Saag at the University of Alabama at Birmingham called Texas “a warning shot” for states to closely watch any surges in cases and have plans to swiftly take steps to stop them.

“No one knows for sure exactly the right way forward, and what I think we’re witnessing is a giant national experiment,” said Saag, an infectious diseases researcher.

In the U.S., many states have lifted stay-at-home orders and other restrictions, allowing some types of businesses to reopen.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, told CNN on Sunday that he was concerned to see images of a crowded bar in Columbus, Ohio, on the first day that outdoor dining establishments were allowed to reopen.

“We made the decision to start opening up Ohio, and about 90% of our economy is back open, because we thought it was a huge risk not to open,” he said. “But we also know it’s a huge risk in opening.”

The Isle of Palms, one of South Carolina’s most popular beaches, saw a rush of visitors this weekend— with Mayor Jimmy Carroll calling Saturday the busiest day he has seen in his more than 60 years there. But police said almost everyone on the beach and in the ocean was staying a safe distance apart.

Houses of worship are beginning to look ahead to resumption of in-person services, with some eyeing that shift this month. But the challenges are steeper in states with ongoing public health restrictions.

In Elgin, Ill., Northwest Bible Baptist Church had sought to welcome back worshipers on Sunday, preparing to scan people’s temperatures and purchasing protective equipment. But that was postponed after local authorities raised questions and the church is now in talks about parameters for holding future services.

The church’s preparations were “more than what they’d had to do if they were at Home Depot or Lowe’s or Walmart,” said Jeremy Dys, a counsel at First Liberty Institute, the legal nonprofit representing Northwest Bible Baptist. “Somehow people going to church are incapable, it’s insinuated, of safely gathering.”

Underscoring the tradeoffs involved in resuming such gatherings, officials in California’s Butte County announced Friday that a congregant had tested positive for the virus after attending a Mother’s Day church event that drew more than 180 people.

“Moving too quickly through the reopening process can cause a major setback and could require us to revert back to more restrictive measures,” the county’s public health director said in a statement.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has suggested that early predictions were overblown, as he attempts to lure residents back to public life and help rebuild the state’s battered economy. On Monday, Florida restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, as can retail shops, museums and libraries. Gyms can also begin reopening.

Paula Walborsky, a 74-year-old retired attorney in Tallahassee, Florida, has resisted the temptation to get her hair done and turned down dinner invitations from close friends. But when one of her city’s public swimming pools reopened by appointment, she decided to test the waters. Just a handful of other swimmers shared the water as she swam laps and did water aerobics.

“I was so excited to be back in the water, and it just felt wonderful,” Walborsky said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo got tested for the coronavirus on live television Sunday. Any New Yorkers experiencing flu-like symptoms or those returning to work can now get tested, Cuomo said.

“We’re all talking about what is the spread of the virus when you increase economic activity. Well, how do you know what the spread of the virus is? Testing, testing, testing,” he said.


Kunzelman reported from Silver Spring, Maryland. Associated Press writers Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida; Michael R. Sisak in New York; and AP writers around the world contributed.


Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

AP featured
What level of risk is acceptable? It depends.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — As an infectious disease expert, Dr. George Rutherford knows all about the horrors of COVID-19.

But there’s one risk that the University of California, San Francisco professor, wearing a mask, is willing to take: hugging his 2-year-old granddaughter.

For two months, we’ve been diligent about staying home. But, as Bay Area residents start to venture out with parts of the state gradually loosening lockdown restrictions, how do we navigate this new landscape of peril and promise? We can’t stay isolated and fearful forever.

The new normal looks like this: Social lives carefully built around “risk reduction” rather than the strict and absolute safety of isolated sheltering.

“We need to balance our needs with what we know about coronavirus,” said Stanford University communications professor Jeff Hancock, founding director of the Stanford Social Media Lab, who is studying compliance with stay-at-home orders.

“Abstinence doesn’t work. Plans that are practical and recognize basic human needs will be more successful than those plans that don’t,” he said. “Do we need a vacation in Costa Rica with lots of friends? No. Do we need intimate and social moments? Yes.”

Risk isn’t binary, experts agreed. All-or-nothing approaches both have bad consequences.

Danger zones

Emerging research shows that the most dangerous settings are large gatherings of mixed social groups, where people who don’t know each other are close, sing, chat and commingle. Think San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival, where music lovers from far-flung locales are crowded together for hours. Indoor and confined areas, like bars and restaurants, are much worse than more solitary outdoor recreational activities, such as golf or hiking.

And time matters: brief moments of contact are better than hours.

What’s safe will mean different things to different people.

UCSF’s Rutherford would consider hosting cocktails on the back porch with friends, with safe distancing. Tennis? Yes. A small, discreet and formal wedding? Probably. A neighborhood crafts fair? Unlikely. An indoor rock concert? No way.

When out and about, “wearing masks is the most important thing,” he said. “That is the game changer. We can control transmission. We need to keep it as low as possible throughout the summer.”

UC Berkeley’s Dr. John Swartzberg would love to hug his grandchildren, ages 10 and 13. But he and his wife are in their 70s. And their son and daughter-in-law, both physicians, are potentially exposed to COVID-19 at work.

So they have family picnics in the backyard, in the fresh air, safely distanced and using their own utensils. This weekend’s lunch with close friends, their first gathering since March, will look the same.

“There is a risk. But it is a minuscule risk because there’s adequate social distancing and it’s outdoors,” said Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley. “It is a price we are willing to pay.”

Birders cautious

Scanning the skies for birds, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society director Matthew Dodder and two friends ventured out together for the first time Thursday, separated by the span of a country road, sharing sights of a lazuli bunting, hawks and 60 other species. “It was emotional. Zoom isn’t the same. Human nature draws us together,” Dodder said.

What wasn’t shared: spotting scopes or car rides. When the club’s larger outings restart, he said, groups will be small. They’ll visit wide open wetlands, lakes and ponds, rather than narrow wooded trails.

“With friends, when we were chatting, we just naturally drift toward each other, but then remember,” he said. “With a large group of people, that’s harder.”

When cyclist David Schorow rides with friends, single file, along Alameda and Contra Costa County roads, they’re 25 to 50 feet apart. Future rides with his club Western Wheelers also will be safely stretched out — and they’ll be different from pre-pandemic rides, with no printed route sheets or a convivial post-ride meal.

Pastors of most synagogues, mosques and churches are discussing how to limit the size of services when health officials give the OK to resume. They will separate members and require masks while also continuing to provide online worship for vulnerable members.

Can there be “self-service” communion? It’s under consideration.

Bay Area counties are still restricting many outdoor activities that encourage gathering and close-contact sports, with high-touch equipment, like playgrounds and climbing walls off-limits.

Jamie Kalb, captain of the Palo Alto Feral Cows Ultimate Frisbee club, has been doing footwork and conditioning drills to stay in shape. Future games will be different, players said. Can you block a toss when you’re standing 6 feet away? That’s hard — and requires a major change in the game.

“A Frisbee is something you touch. It’s a shared surface,” said Mike McGuirk, executive director of Bay Area Disc Association, who only tosses with members of his household.

Baseball involves close contact and shared balls. So does basketball. Golf is safer. Surfing is very safe.

Palo Alto’s Lawn Bowling Club may consider new national guidelines: Wear masks. Sanitize hands. Only handle your own bowls. Leave an empty rink between games. Use a clean towel after each game. Keep a safe distance. And definitely no spitting or licking of fingers.

“Distance and time. That’s what matters,” said Swartzberg. “Can you maintain social distancing? How long are you in close proximity?”

“I’m walking through a neighborhood art festival with a mask on, the risk is minimal,” he said. “But if I stop and talk to the artist for 15 minutes, that is not prudent.

Cold calculations

In a provocative and widely circulated Medium post, Tomas Pueyo, a Stanford Graduate School of Business alum with a degree in public management and a specialization in behavioral psychology, published a data-driven article analyzing the economic costs and benefits of social gatherings in the time of COVID-19. The calculations give a blunt assessment of how we prioritize what’s worth the risk.

“If we establish based on our healthcare system that the cost (of hospitalization) is only $10,000 per infection, then we should allow the opera, theaters, cinemas and big conferences and congresses,” which add more to the economy because of their high revenue, he wrote. “But we shouldn’t allow events like big fairs or music concerts since their value (revenue) drops below the $10,000 per infection (threshold).”

Based on his modeling, the opera — with more expensive seats, fewer attendees and lower risk — has a value of $33,000 per infection. A big, boisterous and crowded music concert has a much lower value of $400 per infection.

Until there is a vaccine or more effective treatment, our new reality and its daily assessment of risk will be a more complicated, nuanced and ever-changing place, Swartzberg said. But it’s inevitable — and important.

“We’re social animals. We can’t stay isolated. We already know there will be very significant mental health fallout from this pandemic,” Swartzberg said. “If you want to prevent death from infection, people won’t have money for food and will starve to death.

“It’s not perfect and it will never be perfect,” he said. “We’re threading the needle through a very small hole.”