The only thing more unprecedented than closing down the country almost altogether is the reluctance of many to re-open for business.
Sure, re-opening must be done carefully and always focused on science. But the whole enterprise seems to be given over to emotions, often to the exclusion of relevant information.
Most outstandingly, in Sunday’s New York Times, a Washington state public school teacher Rebecca Martinson takes great pains to portray herself as somebody who would do anything for her students.
But there is one thing she would not do. Yes, you guessed it. Ms. Martinson writes:
Every day when I walk into work as a public-school teacher, I am prepared to take a bullet to save a child. In the age of school shootings, that’s what the job requires. But asking me to return to the classroom amid a pandemic and expose myself and my family to Covid-19 is like asking me to take that bullet home to my own family.
I won’t do it, and you shouldn’t want me to.
Well, of course Ms. Martinson has every right to refuse to go to work. Nobody can or should be forced to continue in a job that she deems too dangerous.
But what struck me about Ms. Martinson’s piece is that she never lets on about her risk. She doesn’t tell us if she lives with elderly, vulnerable family members. She doesn’t tell us whether she has underlying conditions that would make her susceptible to COVID-19.
The most prominent fact cited is that 75 “school-based” employees of the New York City Department of Education lost their lives to COVID-19 between March 16, 2020 and June 22. While each of these losses is undeniably tragic, to make these numbers meaningful, we need to know which ones contracted the infection because of their jobs. New York City’s public schools began shutting down in mid-March.
We do understand that Ms. Martinson is not comfortable with returning to the classroom. Teaching is a tough job in the best of times, and Ms. Martinson is clearly so afraid that she will refuse to return. But something more than emotions is required. New York Times editors were remiss in not requiring more in the way of evidence on the actual risks.
Are Ms. Martinson’s fears grounded in “the science,” or are they result of something else, possibly including cynically-generated panic?
This is no way to discuss something as important as the re-opening of schools.