My 50-year-old kid brother is a public school teacher in a suburb of Pittsburgh, a football town with a coronavirus problem. The next victim of the pandemic may be the Steelers’ 2020 season, which accounts for at least a third of the southwestern Pennsylvania economy.
As their season tickets to Heinz Field flirt with worthlessness, my brother and my sister-in-law, a hospital pharmacist, are raising a pair of extremely active teens abruptly forced into dormancy by the suspension of everyday activities we all once took for granted.
One of the girls is entering sixth grade, the other eighth. They are good students, prize gymnasts and fierce competitors. Before the pandemic, they kept jam-packed schedules, always on the go. Now they are home. All the time.
My brother wants his daughters back in school. Their district is reopening with a hybrid model. So is his, and he’s eager to be back in the classroom. He’s a math teacher and a Republican disgusted by both choices in the looming presidential election.
To him, everything is “all about the numbers.”
My brother doesn’t trust any of the official COVID-19 numbers. He believes the death toll is inflated due to misreporting of unrelated deaths. He also believes claims that the infection rate is higher than known due to lack of testing support the argument for reopening. If there really are millions of unreported cases and “only” 160,000 deaths, my brother said the virus is obviously less lethal than advertised.
“Look, it’s a serious virus, but it’s been way overblown and way too politicized,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, the risks are minimal compared to what the kids are missing not being in school.”
I hate math. I love my brother and I’ve learned to live with both. I see the numbers differently, and so do most epidemiologists. The one I trust most, Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times every American should read.
The headline: “How to Crush the Virus until Vaccines Arrive.” Read it here.
In my Sunday column, I take another look at the pros and cons of reopening area schools in an airborne infectious disease pandemic. I think it’s a bad idea. Stephanie Luciani, a working parent of three Abington Heights students, thinks it’s the best option for education and containing the spread of the virus. She started a petition to pressure district officials to reopen with full in-person instruction, which doesn’t seem possible or likely.
Stephanie is not a crank. She does her homework and is a fierce advocate for her kids and their peers. I respect that, and I’m glad we had a chance to chat. If you’re a subscriber, please read the column tomorrow. If you’re not a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Monthly digital subscriptions start at $4.95, less than the average trip through a drive-thru.
Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Subscribe to a local newspaper. Rinse and repeat. You’ll be glad you did.