The Vaccine as Fire Hose

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The vaccine news continues to seem very encouraging. Britain started its mass vaccination effort today, and the U.S. isn’t far behind.

But there is still one dark cloud hanging over the vaccines that many people don’t yet understand.

The vaccines will be much less effective at preventing death and illness in 2021 if they are introduced into a population where the coronavirus is raging — as is now the case in the U.S. That’s the central argument of a new paper in the journal Health Affairs. (One of the authors is Dr. Rochelle Walensky of Massachusetts General Hospital, whom President-elect Joe Biden has chosen to run the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

An analogy may be helpful here. A vaccine is like a fire hose. A vaccine that’s 95 percent effective, as Moderna’s and Pfizer’s versions appear to be, is a powerful fire hose. But the size of a fire is still a bigger determinant of how much destruction occurs.

I asked the authors of the Health Affairs study to put their findings into terms that we nonscientists could understand, and they were kind enough to do so. The estimates are fairly stunning:

At the current level of infection in the U.S. (about 200,000 confirmed new infections per day), a vaccine that is 95 percent effective — distributed at the expected pace — would still leave a terrible toll in the six months after it was introduced. Almost 10 million or so Americans would contract the virus, and more than 160,000 would die.

This is far worse than the toll in an alternate universe in which the vaccine was only 50 percent effective but the U.S. had reduced the infection rate to its level in early September (about 35,000 new daily cases). In that scenario, the death toll in the next six months would be kept to about 60,000.

It’s worth pausing for a moment on this comparison, because it’s deeply counterintuitive. If the U.S. had maintained its infection rate from September and Moderna and Pfizer had announced this fall that their vaccines were only 50 percent effective, a lot of people would have freaked out.

Welk Resorts will be sold to Marriott for $430M after 57 years of family ownership

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After more than a half-century of family ownership, the Welk Resorts portfolio, including the original Escondido location, is being sold to Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation for $430 million.

Once the still pending sale is finalized — by early in the second quarter — Marriott says it plans to rebrand the Welk vacation resorts in California, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico and Cabo San Lucas as Hyatt Residence Club properties. The purchase price includes roughly 1.4 million Marriott Vacations common shares.

The acquisition represents a major milestone for a company started 57 years ago by the late television bandleader Lawrence Welk, whose hospitality empire took root in 1964 when he was driving through rural Escondido and noticed a 100-space mobile home park and an adjacent nine-hole golf course with a clubhouse, 60-seat restaurant and a four-room motel.

Famous television bandleader Lawrence Welk was host of The Lawrence Welk Show from 1951 to 1982. (Courtesy of Welk Resorts/Welk Resorts)


In 1984, Welk, who died in 1992, made his foray into the vacation ownership industry. Under his son Larry Welk’s leadership, the Escondido property was converted to a timeshare.

Since then, the Welk portfolio has grown exponentially to include eight timeshare resorts, including Escondido, as well as locations in Cathedral City near Palm Springs; Lake Tahoe where there are two properties; Branson, Mo.; Breckenridge, Colo.; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Cabo San Lucas.

Welk Resorts opened The Ranahan in Breckenridge early last year, and four years earlier, the company debuted its Experiences Collection by Welk Resorts. The Collection includes more than a dozen vacation properties like the Four Seasons Residence Club that Welk company owns inventory in and makes available to its platinum owners.

“For our team and family it’s definitely bittersweet because after working 57 years through four generations and utilizing the Welk name, I think our team has an affinity for the name as do our owners,” said CEO and Welk grandson, Jon Fredricks, who has led the San Marcos-based company since 1999. “It’s a well-known name in the vacation ownership industry but all of us who’ve grown up in the business definitely see the opportunity to rebrand. The Hyatt Residence Club is a very close match to the quality of the projects we have, and they want to use our team to continue to grow their Residence Club business.”

Fredricks said he expects the rebranding process to take about nine months, but the vast majority of Welk’s existing employees would continue working at the properties. Marriott’s intent, he said, is to have Welk continue to sell its points-based club product until 2022 and by 2023 look at integrating that into one club system.

“We appreciate that Welk Resorts’ leadership has entrusted MVW (Marriott Vacations Worldwide) to build on the solid foundation laid by generations of the Welk family and the company’s team members,” Marriott Vacations CEO Stephen Weisz said in a statement. “We have been in the vacation ownership industry for decades and have deep respect for the strength of the Welk name, operation and legacy.”

The Welk timeshare portfolio is actually much larger than Hyatt’s, with 52,000 owners compared to Hyatt’s 33,000, Fredricks said. In 2019, Hyatt generated $50 million in timeshare sales, while Welk’s volume was $130 million, he noted.

While Welk resorts are widely known within the timeshare industry, it makes sense for them to now be under the Hyatt umbrella, which will allow the properties to attract a wider demographic of customers, said hospitality expert Alan Reay.


“I think it is an old-time name and it appeals to a much older demographic,” said Reay, president of the Atlas Hospitality Group. “I’d say most young people don’t have a clue who Lawrence Welk was so getting the Hyatt Residence Club name opens up a lot more marketing opportunities and to a wider audience, so I think it’s a very smart move. You also have the benefit of their loyalty guest members and the economies of scale and buying power of Hyatt, which can negotiate much better rates with online travel agencies like Expedia.”

From the beginning, the Welk resort operation has remained a family affair, with Larry Welk serving as chairman of the Welk Resorts’ board and his great-grandson, Robert Segall, operating as sales and marketing director for the business. The majority of the company is family-owned — more than 20 family members make up the ownership. A former company executive holds a small percentage of stock, and 12 percent of the company is held by an employee stock ownership plan.

Seen here is a Mountain Villas unit at the Welk Resorts property in Escondido. (Hand-out/Welk Resorts)

The original Escondido resort location has grown over the years, encompassing 450 acres where there are two 18-hole golf courses, seven swimming pools, a fitness center, five recreation centers, two waterslides, two escape rooms, a spa, theater and restaurants. It has been upgraded and expanded over the years, the most recent addition being the Mountain Villas, with the mountains as a backdrop. So far, about half of the entitled 148 units have been built, Fredricks said.


In all, the Escondido property has 714 units. Fredricks said that while the theater has been closed because of the pandemic, he expects that Marriott will continue operating it in the same fashion as Welk Resorts has in recent years when it began downsizing the number of performances.

Excluded from the sale to Marriott are a number of properties that Welk Resorts owns and are not a fit for the Residence Club plans. Among them is a still undeveloped 22-acre site near Poipu beach in Kauai that is entitled for 168 timeshare units or condominiums. It also owns some land near the Escondido resort and also real estate in Branson near that timeshare property.

Also family-owned is the Los Angeles-based Welk Group Inc. that owns a number of commercial properties, as well as an entertainment division. Larry Welk is chairman of that company.

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For the thousands of migrant families who were separated at the border by the Trump administration, the remedy that has eluded them thus far may soon be in sight: a pathway to legal status in the United States, with their loved ones at their sides.

That possibility is just beginning to be explored by a task force created last month by President Joe Biden, who has called the separations a “moral and national shame.”

The task force’s primary focus is to reunite the more than 1,000 families who remain apart, most of them separated by international borders. The new Department of Homeland Security secretary has promised to allow deported parents to reunite with their children in the United States — a concession that the Trump administration had refused.

“And if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the United States,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday, “we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States and to address the family needs so we are acting as restoratively as possible.”


But what those pathways might look like — and how lasting they would be — remain entirely unclear.

The task force will likely examine a playbook of presidential powers that allows the executive branch to parole certain immigrants back into the country and provide sanctuary. But such relief, likely achieved through a mix-and-match approach, would be temporary and could be complicated by standing immigration court orders.

U.S. Border Patrol agents ask a group of Central American asylum seekers to remove hair bands and wedding rings before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018, near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center for possible separation under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. (Getty Images)

Inserting families back into the overburdened and capricious immigration court system to restate their asylum claims is another option — one that immigrant advocates are adamantly discouraging.

“In the end they could be no better off. We are just kicking the can down the road,” said Jeremy McLean, policy advocacy manager for Justice in Motion, a New York-based nonprofit that has helped search for parents. “It’s also retraumatizing. If possible, we would like to have these families not go through that again.”

While the affected families have received a collective wave of publicity for the brutality they endured, their numbers are relatively small considering the roughly 1.3 million immigration cases pending as of January, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The task force has also so far been silent on how wide a net it will be casting in its effort to make amends.

In all, some 5,400 children were separated by the Trump administration — many who were reunited with their parents under a San Diego court order and are now back in their home countries, as well as others who were barred from reuniting due to their parents’ criminal records. Will the task force afford these families the same opportunities for legal status?


“I really want this task force to not be centered on each individual case, whether or not they fit certain criteria,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, a managing attorney for Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit providing legal and humanitarian support to immigrants. “The only criteria they need to fit is ‘Were they or were they not separated from their child?’ and ‘Did we or did we not torture them?’”

Unraveling chaos

When the Trump administration decided to separate migrant families under a “zero-tolerance policy” in an attempt to clamp down on asylum-seekers at the border, it did so without any making any provision to reunite them.

Children were sent to government shelters while their parents were placed in federal criminal custody or civil immigration detention, or both. There was no central database tracking their movements. Parents often had no clue where their children, some just months old, had been taken, and visa versa.

Their immigration cases also branched, sending parent and child through different processes.


The zero-tolerance policy had been widely in effect across the southwestern border for about two months when U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, in a June 26, 2018, preliminary injunction, ordered families to be reunited within 30 days. His order, stemming from a lawsuit filed in San Diego federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union, focused on a known entity — a group of some 2,800 children who were in government shelters at the time.

Matching the children with their parents was an enormous undertaking, made somewhat simpler in that many of the adults were still in U.S. immigration detention. Some 2,000 families were reunited.

However, the effort revealed about 400 parents had already been deported. The Trump administration refused to allow the parents to reunite in the U.S. — a decision that the court upheld.

David Xol-Cholom of Guatemala hugs his son Byron at Los Angeles International Airport in January 2020, as they reunite after being separated during the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)


“The Trump administration gave families only two brutal choices: to remain separated from their child or bring their child back to the very danger from which they fled,” the ACLU’s lead attorney on the case, Lee Gelernt, told the Union-Tribune.

Most parents chose to leave their children safely in the U.S. with sponsors to pursue asylum.

Just as the reunification effort was wrapping up, another revelation dropped: Potentially hundreds if not thousands more families had been separated as part of an undisclosed pilot program in Texas a year earlier.

Sabraw ordered a full-throttle effort to identify and locate this new group, a tally that came to about 1,500 children. The endeavor was significantly more challenging due to the passage of time and lack of centralized records. By then, the children had been placed with sponsors, and the vast majority of parents had been deported.


Volunteers began the painstaking process of making contact, often equipped with nothing more than old addresses or phone numbers.

On-the-ground outreach by nonprofits in Central America resumed, with volunteers navigating difficult conditions and a deep-seated mistrust in government. Then it was sidelined by the unthinkable: a deadly pandemic.

As of Feb. 26, the parents of 499 children have yet to be located, while contact has been made with the parents of another 699 children. None have been officially reunited, although attorneys believe some parents have secretly rejoined their children in the U.S.

An additional 1,000 children have been separated since the June 2018 order. The Trump administration defended those cases, citing parental criminal records or doubts as to parentage.


Making amends

The entrance of Biden’s Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families into the situation at this point has re-energized the marathon effort to untangle the chaos of the previous administration. The task force is overseen by Michelle Brané, a noted immigration expert and longtime advocate for human rights, and includes DHS, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.

Offering legal status in the U.S. would go a long way toward repairing the trauma of separation, said attorneys working with the families.

“For the most part, the reasons that families left their homes — none of that’s changed,” said McLean of Justice in Motion. “Given the opportunity to come to a safe place with their family, most would probably jump at that.”

Attorneys had tried to make it happen to some degree as part of the litigation. The effort ended in a limited settlement agreement for parents still in the U.S. to get a second shot at their asylum claims.


Only three parents and four children have been granted asylum under the settlement as of January, according to court records.

In a recent court hearing, Sabraw acknowledged the presidential powers that could transform the case.

“The executive branch is in the best position by far to rectify this situation,” he said.

But it is unclear how widely those powers may be flexed.


When asked for details on the scope of the task force’s efforts, the White House referred inquiries to DHS, which did not return a request for comment.

Bringing parents who were returned to their home countries back to the U.S. would probably be the easy part, with the government’s blessing and assistance, according to immigration experts.

The president has the authority to offer humanitarian parole to certain migrants for specific reasons, such as a child with a severe medical condition or a group of people fleeing specific harm. The Carter administration paroled Cubans into the U.S. in the early 1980s, for instance.

But parole merely gets the parent through the front door.


Attorneys have suggested the possibility that the executive branch then use its powers of deferred action to provide relief. While presidents have a duty to enforce immigration laws, they can also decide how to best enforce them, such as prioritizing the removals of migrants with serious criminal records while placing other categories lower on the list.

Garfield High students rally in Los Angeles in support of “dreamers,” young immigrants protected by DACA, in 2019. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

It is under this authority that “dreamers” — or undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children — have been allowed to remain in the country under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Temporary protected status has been used on groups facing natural disasters or conflicts in their home countries. That status has provided sanctuary to certain Haitians and Salvadorans starting in the 1990s.


“It allows them to stay here until the conditions are better,” said Tammy Lin, a San Diego immigration attorney.

But the status must constantly be renewed and could be scrapped by a new presidential administration.

Temporary protected status designations also traditionally apply to people already on U.S. soil, leaving some experts to question if it could be used on newly arriving — or more like re-arriving — families.

Another more far-fetched solution that has been floated is the possibility of granting the families U-visas, which are reserved for crime victims as long as they show they are cooperating with authorities on an investigation.


Using a U-visa in this circumstance would certainly be non-traditional — it would an acknowledgement that the government itself was the perpetrator of the crime, attorneys said. It is an unlikely avenue for another reason: U-visa applications are significantly backlogged, with waits averaging four to five years.

No matter what the solution, it will likely use some degree of creativity to address an unprecedented situation, attorneys said.

“If they want to make up something completely new, it needs to be pretty narrow and be able to sustain any lawsuits,” said Lin.

Up to Congress

The most permanent solution is legislation.


“Realistically, it’s the most obvious way to get these families some kind of permanent immigration relief,” McLean said. “The executive branch has limited power to grant permanent immigration status.”

A measure called the Families Belong Together Act was introduced in both the House and Senate at the beginning of 2019 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.

It proposed permanent resident status to children and their parents or legal guardians who had been separated, whether they had remained in the U.S. or returned to their home countries.

But the measure did not get beyond committee referral.


The Cazun family of Guatemala after reuniting in 2018 at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport following their separation after they crossed the Rio Grande into the United States. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A new version is currently in the works, said McLean. Whether such a measure would get enough bipartisan support is unclear, but immigrant advocates are hopeful. Many Republicans rebuked the separations and called for an end to the practice in June 2018 as the full force of the Trump administration’s actions gained publicity.

“Something about family separations touched a nerve with the public,” said Donohoe, managing attorney for Al Otro Lado’s Family Reunification Project, “and if there is one area we feel like we can agree on, that this was bad and we should do something for these people, then this it.”

Until then, families are placing their hope in the task force — and even that is shaky.


“The reunification is just the first step,” Donohoe said. “The feel-good picture of them hugging, while that is beautiful, there is a lot of healing that has to go on. A lot of trust has been broken, a lot of damage has been done.”

Al Otro Lado, with offices in San Diego and Los Angeles, is representing 36 parents in Central America. They are ready to go, Donohoe said.

That includes a mother who was separated from her son when he was 3. She is aching to be with him again.

“She’s lost three years of his life,” Donohoe said. “Every day they are separated is another day of torture.”