Two Lower School students reflect on what they learned about pandemics during the 2019 Duke TIP CRISIS camp

L-R: 7th grader Jacob Arias and 6th grader Sophia Preston

Last summer, the Duke TIP CRISIS camp’s theme was a pandemic and how the country would work through a crisis. This year, that crisis came true with the COVID-19 pandemic.

CRISIS is a residential summer program for fifth and sixth graders. Students assume the role of professionals and collaborate with their peers to solve a hypothetical community crisis. CRISIS lets gifted young scholars use problem-based learning to try out an exciting profession while learning academic, leadership, and teamwork skills. Each year, students join a “research team” to tackle a hypothetical community crisis. The week-long program combines this fun, engaging academic approach with supportive residential activities.

Several Farragut students attended this camp, including current 7th grader Jacob Arias and current 6th grader Sophia Preston. Here is an interview featuring their perspectives from their camp training and the world’s response to the real-life pandemic.

How did the camp educate you on dealing with crisis or a pandemic?

  • Jacob – They organized the student participants into occupation-based research teams. I was on the Biomedical engineering team, but there were also Epidemiology, Media, Government, and other teams as well (can’t recall all of them!). We learned about viruses and how they affect living things – we had to know about the virus, how it grew, how it spread, and how it mutated before we could figure out a solution. We also had to know how it affected the human body. We had to find the source of the virus by tracing it back to patient zero. We then had to determine methods of testing for, slowing down or curing the virus.
  • Sophia – I was in the government branch. There were several groups including research, media, physicians, and others that would support the project. I was elected president. Being president at camp taught me how to deal with a crisis and pandemics to help my team and the greater group. I learned to stay calm and make a plan of action. As president, I had to keep the country safe. Keeping the country safe meant trying to keep everyone calm, finding ways to help, problem-solving, and answering questions from the press open and honestly without causing panic. Duke TIP Camp taught me how hard it is to deal with a crisis on many levels and how as a leader you had to surround yourself with a group working for a common goal.

Does the crisis procedure of the United States match with what you learned? If not, how is it different?

  • Jacob – In the Duke TIP pandemic, we learned different ways a virus spreads. In the case of a respiratory virus we focused on personal protection such as masks and coverups, not just for medical personnel but for everyone. We also learned that sanitizing and disinfecting was important. We determined that washing hands and keeping hands away from our face was important. When people were sick, we learned it was important to quarantine them from the general population to prevent the spread of the virus. We learned it was important to know where the virus originated and how it spread, and we were able to trace the Duke TIP pandemic virus back to patient zero. With that information we could trace the virus and begin to develop a testing and treatment protocol. We could determine how to slow or stop the spread from this data, as well. The crisis procedure of the United States did match what we learned in the program, however, our response was much faster to put safeguards in place. Our teams had to rely on each other’s leadership. We also found that teamwork was important and we had to be able to share information and ideas. The US government – federal, state, and local – is much larger and there are more participants in solving such a problem, but in this pandemic there have been times when the teamwork wasn’t as clear as those on the Duke teams.
  • Sophia – Yes and no. The United States is closing down restaurants, stores and anything that is not essential, at camp we kept more things open. The United States is recommending to practice social distancing, at Duke Tip we did not recommend social distancing however each pandemic is different so you learn to adjust. Camp and the current situation do compare in ways like establishing guidelines such as recommending to wash your hands and not having close contact with others. Both situations have helped me to understand that communication is key to maintaining control and providing the answers that many need to make it each and every day.

What has most surprised you about the COVID-19 pandemic? For example: The lack of resources? The reactions from the community leaders? The panic of the public?

  • Jacob – Two things that have surprised me the most are 1) lack of testing available and the tests that are available usually take days to get results because only certain labs can process them, and 2) the lack of resources, especially for first responders and medical personnel. But then I began thinking about other essential personnel such as grocery store workers and those who work in the meat processing industries, and realized they didn’t have protection equipment while at work. This left them vulnerable to the virus. While they were working to make certain we had protection, medical care, and food on our table, they were left vulnerable to the virus. Lack of cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer has been hard to understand – these things just are not available at a time we need them the most. And toilet paper – there is really none to be purchased in the stores, and even the delivery services from places like Amazon, Target, and Walmart do not have them. Community leaders in our area have been responsive by quickly closing beaches, parks, swimming pools, and even churches, especially since we didn’t initially know the way the virus spread. Discouraging large groups was a good step. Community service announcements and information have been good from our local government. Some information from the state government and the federal government has been confusing and sometimes changes from day to day. This only gives citizens insecurity about what is really taking place. Sometimes people don’t understand charts and statistics, they just need to know in plain language what is taking place. I was pleasantly surprised by Publix giving extra hours of shopping specifically to first responders and the elderly. I was glad to see everyone cooperating by staying safer at home and social distancing, and even wearing masks while out in public.
  • Sophia – Something that had surprised me about COVID was how fast it spread. Each day the numbers seem to increase with no true timeline when it could slow. The fact that COVID can spread that fast is both devastating and amazing. If people do their part and stay home then we can help slow the spread. I am really surprised at the number of people that are not willing to self isolate to help others. 

What, if anything, do you think the world could improve to better respond to the pandemic?

  • Jacob – Having all countries work together and communicate instead of individual countries working in isolation to develop testing, vaccines and cures would be much more efficient. In this coronavirus pandemic, one country did not readily share it had a problem before it had gone past its borders, putting other countries at risk. It was only then the world was notified of this impending pandemic. Having ongoing studies about previous pandemics and flu strains, even Ebola, TB, Malaria, and HIV, may lead to answers, but it has to be ongoing, not just startup when there is an out of control pandemic. Viruses mutate – studying the past might provide the answers needed for the future or at least a good first step. We should also have a response plan in place agreed to by each country that could be implemented as soon as there is need – all areas would be included – medical, research, food and water, forecasting, travel, etc. – this would save precious time in responding to a world pandemic.
  • Sophia – I personally think people should try to stay home more. Watching from my window I have seen many big groups of people who are not staying home or social distancing. If everyone could stay home the spread would slow. Everyone needs to do their part to help the medical community and others working to help the country and world. Other than that, I think the world is doing okay, except for hoarding toilet paper.