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Duke women's soccer hosts virtual chat with alumni on the frontline of COVID-19

Kelly Hathorn is just one of many former Duke women's soccer players whose careers have brought them on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kelly Hathorn is just one of many former Duke women's soccer players whose careers have brought them on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even in quarantine, Duke athletes are still finding ways to stay connected.

This past Sunday, former women’s soccer player Libby Jandl hosted a virtual Chalk Talk featuring four Duke alumni, including three former Blue Devil women’s soccer players, with careers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Throughout the hour-long Zoom call, the panel talked about the process of reopening the economy, the role of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the pandemic and more. But one of the first topics of the discussion centered on the timeline one should expect for effective treatment drugs or a vaccine.

“I don’t think we necessarily know yet,” Kelly Hathorn, who graduated from Duke in 2009 and Duke Medical School in 2014 and is currently volunteering for the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Boston, said. “But what I will say is that the researchers around the world are working tirelessly to find a treatment…. One of the infectious disease doctors here, who is a part of all the trials, it did not matter if I was on a day shift or a night shift or what time I was in the hospital—I can assure you I would run into him at least once or twice a shift.”

Despite the vigorous efforts from scientists and researchers, it could be a while before a vaccine can be introduced to the general public. Hathorn mentioned that “very regimented clinicals” will be a necessity to ensure the safety of such a vaccine before it could be “rolled out like the annual flu vaccines that we’re more accustomed to.”

“I'm a pretty heavy optimistic person,” Hathorn said. “I wish I could be that way in terms of the timing of the vaccines, but I don't think it's going to be anytime soon…. I think that many, many, many, many months if not years until that's going to truly be something that we're offering to everyone.”

Another topic consistently brought up throughout the hour was the reopening of the economy, and what the next few months in the United States might look like. According to Meg Montgomery, a Class of 2006 Duke graduate and the only panel member who did not play on the women’s soccer team, that question is a lot more complicated than it seems.

“I wish I could give a really succinct answer on this one. I think I would become a very wealthy and well-known person,” Montgomery, who currently works in the congressional office of Dean Phillips in Minnesota, said. “I think it's going to look really different in different places, in different states and cities. I know a lot of governors and local officials are talking about it being a dial and not a switch and it being turned up and down and not on and off.”

Kendall Bradley, a member of Duke’s Class of 2010 and Duke Medical School’s Class of 2015, understands that the quarantine is affecting people’s jobs and lives. Her own wedding had to get moved due to coronavirus. However, she also stresses the need for people to continue to follow CDC recommendations and to listen to the advice of medical professionals.

“[The scientists are] really not out there to try to make your life miserable or ruin your fun, or keep you from doing your job,” Bradley said. “They're really focused on the science of this. So try to focus on that rather than the internet or Facebook or Instagram. 

“These people are brilliant. They spend their whole careers doing this, so they know about this. Not me personally as an orthopedic surgeon, but the immunologists, the virologists, the infectious disease doctors, the medicine doctors—they're all doing their best to try to keep the public safe so please listen to the scientists and not maybe the pundits as much.”

Later, the focus turned toward former Duke women’s soccer player Bridgitt Arnold’s role with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and what she has learned about the Gates’ philanthropic goals amid the pandemic.

Arnold graduated from Duke in 1994 and accepted a job at Microsoft two years later, working closely with Bill Gates and the rest of the Microsoft executive team. When Gates decided to focus full-time on global health and philanthropy, Arnold joined him. 

Right now, Arnold says that the Gates’ relief efforts are focused on three areas. The first area is local response in Seattle and nearby Washington areas, including the life care center in Kirkland, Wash., whose outbreak kickstarted the pandemic in the United States. 

Secondly, the Gates are focused on accelerating vaccine and therapeutic efforts. Even when a vaccine candidate is found, Arnold emphasized the difficulty in the supply chain and delivery of making that vaccine available across the globe. Thus, Bill and Melinda are looking into potential ways they could aid the manufacturing part of that process.

Their final area of focus, however, could be the most challenging of them all.

“When they started the foundation, the goal was to make sure that no matter where you were born, that you had a shot,” Arnold said. “What Bill and Melinda are currently very worried about, in addition to what we're seeing happen here in the States, we’re very worried about what's going to happen in some of these places where you don't have some of the [basic health necessities] and social distancing is not an option for a daily wage worker.”

Lastly, the virtual discussion briefly touched on the topic of colleges returning to campus for the fall semester, something extremely prevalent to the many women’s soccer players on the call who could see their season cancelled.

“I am hopeful,” Hathorn said. “We know how important the fall is to all the people on this chat, and we're super hopeful for not only you guys but all other student-athletes and just students in general. Everyone wants to get back to normal and I just think everyone's trying to do it as safely as possible. I think hopefully within the next few weeks, even a month or two, it's going to be a little bit more clear. But still a little bit up in the air for right now.”

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