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Mom of WSU student who caught COVID-19 at party says everyone has ‘to play our role’

A general view from the field of Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington. (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)

There has been a rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Whitman County that’s been linked to parties held by students returning to campus at Washington State University (WSU). Nearly 70 new cases were confirmed over the weekend, all among young people.

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The university issued a statement warning students that they could face disciplinary action if they’re caught gathering in large groups. But is it realistic to expect young adults to make all the right decisions when they’re away from home at college? And do universities need to take some of the blame for having students return to campus?

Chris, a friend of show host Ursula Reutin, has a son who goes to WSU, who, unfortunately, is one of the students who got sick with the virus.

“He got sick, first symptoms were last Tuesday, he had a fever for two days, and then … once the fever was gone, he just felt crummy for a couple days,” Chris said. “He has a little cough, but it’s getting better. And so I think he’s kind of out the other side.”

Her son went to a party when he got to Pullman, which is where he thinks he caught COVID-19.

“I’m going to use the word ‘gathering’ because it sounds better than party,” said his mom. “… He thinks that he got it the very first day he got there because he knows there was … a girl that he actually hugged, who he was around for a little bit, who was confirmed a couple days later. And he got sick five days after that.”

While that’s how her son thinks he caught it, his mom said there’s a chance he could have been exposed to other people too, so it’s hard to know for sure.

Before heading back to school, Chris said both she and her son were worried.

“He was … honestly a super good mask-wearer. He worked in Seattle this summer. He had to wear a mask at work,” she said. “He really took it pretty seriously, but I just think, once he got there, … there was some sense of being around his friends, and it all went out the window.”

“I mean, my opinion is that … he’s 20. Their brains are not developed until they’re 25. We know that. And I just think … it’s unrealistic to count on adolescent brains to be really doing the right thing all the time,” she added.

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Her advice for other parents of college students right now is to be realistic: Even if you think your kid will always do the right thing, understand that everyone make mistakes.

“This is my third kid, so I’ve been through a lot, and I just think they’re not always going to make good decisions, so you do your best,” she said. “But you can’t protect them from everything. Unfortunately, this illness could be no big deal or it could be really bad, and it could be really bad for the community.”

Chris’ daughter joined the Gee & Ursula Show earlier in the pandemic. She also had COVID-19, and works at a grocery store. Chris says there were differences for the cases of her two kids.

“[My daughter] was sick for maybe 10 days, and she was really fatigued,” she said. “And she was just really, like, out. But she didn’t really have a fever, and she also had weird body aches and stuff, and then she has had, we don’t know for sure, but she had kind of low level, irritating cough for the last few months.”

It’s unclear if the cough is related to COVID-19 or not, but there’s a chance it could be a lingering effect. While she’s relieved her son and daughter are better, Chris is still worried there could be long-term effects on their health.

“There’s this heart inflammation thing that happens and it’s kind of prevalent, so I do worry,” she said.

At WSU, her son immediately went into self-quarantine once he started having symptoms. According to the CDC guidelines, he’ll stay home and quarantined until the end of the month.

When asked if the students or the university should take the bulk of the responsibility, Chris says it’s a combination. WSU, for example, has moved all classes online, but her son had a lease in Pullman.

“He’s an adult, he doesn’t want to live at home,” she said. “I just think it would have been great if [WSU] had kind of a, ‘here’s what you’re going to do the minute you arrive in Pullman, you’re going to go get tested.’ … Something like that would have been good.”

There is testing happening now at WSU, but Chis said her son had to get a referral from his doctor to get tested and then go to the hospital.

“I just think it’s like a combination of factors,” she said. “We, as a community, … we all have to play our role.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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