Editorial: Our COVID-19 obligations

  • A grade school student awaits a COVID-19 vaccination in Washington state. Schools are primary incubators for infectious disease.

    A grade school student awaits a COVID-19 vaccination in Washington state. Schools are primary incubators for infectious disease. Associated Press Photo

Updated 11/13/2021 5:39 PM

As we write this, the pandemic's death toll in the United States stands at more than three-quarters of a million people.

That's greater than the population of Seattle, Washington -- gone in a year and a half.


What few of us fully appreciate -- and certainly most of the unvaccinated and those who disdain masks don't -- is that each of those who died were, in reality, killed by other people.

Yes, the virus is a killer. But it could not kill anyone without people who are complicit in passing it along.

Most of the COVID-19 deaths have been agonizing, the victims straining for breath with a panic inherent in the body's strongest defense reflex.

And people were responsible for every single one of them.

This is the way infectious disease operates. The connection to us is invisible but no less real.

Almost no one consciously infects someone. No one tries to get someone sick. No one intentionally kills someone. But kill them we do, all the same. Kill them as dead, never to return, as premeditation does.

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With rare exceptions, we are good and kind people. And in some cases, these infections occur despite our best efforts to protect against transmitting them, cases that run through a home despite heroic precautions.

But in most cases, we are oblivious and careless. We don't see the dread we inflict and so we imagine none is inflicted. Oh, but the dread is horrific. And comes with fear and regret and with lines of grieving loved ones.

You know that debate over masks when it comes to kids in schools? And the looming debates about whether kids should be vaccinated?

The focus in these debates is on the relative likelihood of kids suffering severe effects if they're infected with COVID-19. There's logic in a parent's concern about that. And regardless, it's a worthy discussion to be sure.

But here's the thing that does not seem to get talked about much: Our schools are incubators of infectious disease. Kids interact more than adults. They interact more energetically than adults. And they interact more closely than adults. Take a glance sometime down a crowded school hallway if you need to see what we mean.


Hey, we did not need COVID-19 to learn this. Anyone who has had kids knows it. They come home sick from school with some regularity.

But they're not the only ones who get sick when they do. The disease spreads inside the house. And then outside the house, too.

The unspoken but simple truth is this: If you want to stop an epidemic, there's one place where you must go to stop it. The schools. Stopping the spread there has more impact on the public's general health than stopping it anywhere else. By far.

From the beginning of this pandemic, the public health campaigns have been built around self-interest: Take these precautions to protect yourself. Get the vaccine to return to a more normal life. There was wisdom in that. We indeed are motivated by what's good for us.

But too little has been stressed about our obligations. We have been killing people. We have killed a community the size of Seattle.

And we have obligations, each of us, to stop the killing.

Be a patriot. Get vaccinated.

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