The data continue to show that high school sports can and should return safely

PMG FILE PHOTOS - The next question facing Oregon's high school athletes is whether they'll be allowed to return to competition for the fall of 2020.Five weeks ago, I wrote a column about Oregon's COVID-19 numbers and my opinion that we could — and should — bring back sports.

You can read that by clicking the link above or by searching the headline "Vance: It's time to let them play" on our website.

Since then, Oregon has slowly begun reopening businesses and its other social institutions — but attention to sports seems to be lagging behind. Since that first column, however, we've got another five weeks of data that show we ought to bring back sports and how we can do it safely.

MILES VANCEWith all that as pretext, and as a regular user of Twitter, all I can say is this — #letthemplay.

A month of numbers

In Oregon, as of Thursday, June 18, there have been 601 cases of COVID-19 among residents ages 0-19 and zero deaths. Indeed, only 11 people in Oregon in the 0-19 age group — a group that represents 23% of our state's population — have been hospitalized with the virus over the five months since Oregon's first reported case of COVID-19.

The news for those ages 20-39 — representing 27% of Oregon's population — is generally good, too. As of June 18, there have been 2,363 cases of COVID-19 in that age group, 118 hospitalizations and — again — zero deaths.

Next, in the 40-59 age group — a group that represents 25% of our state's population — there have been 2,100 cases of COVID-19 through June 18, 287 hospitalizations and eight deaths. There hasn't been a single new death in the 40-59 age group since before I wrote that first column five weeks ago.

In the 60-79 age group — 21% of the population — there have been 1,155 cases of COVID-19, 389 hospitalizations and 90 deaths.

Finally, in the 80 and over age group — a group that represents just 4% of the state's population — there have been 311 cases of COVID-19, 139 hospitalizations and 86 deaths.

Of all people tested in Oregon — 193,689 as of June 18 — just 6,344 (3%) have turned up positive.

While sickness, hospitalization and death are unmitigated negatives, there are many positives among these numbers, too. COVID-19 isn't deadly for Oregon's young, or even its middle aged, with only eight deaths statewide among people ages 0-59 and zero deaths among those under 40.

Still dangerous to many

The virus has cost us terribly among Oregon's older residents — almost 46% of all deaths (86 total) have come from the 80 and over age group — but there is some mitigating data there, as well.

Oregon Public Broadcasting posts a regular update to its website regarding COVID-19 data and deaths; many (but not all) of OPB's posts include information on the age of those who died and whether they had underlying medical conditions.

From May 14 to June 18 — the period measured from my first column to this one — there have been 50 COVID-19 deaths in Oregon; OPB listed the age of the victims and the related medical status for 26 of those. In that group, 25 of them had additional underlying medical conditions that make the virus much more deadly.

In other words, even among the state's most vulnerable age groups — at least in the past five weeks — those who didn't also suffer from underlying medical condition were extremely unlikely to die from COVID-19.

As mentioned previously, COVID-19 deaths are a lagging indicator of the virus so it's possible there may be additional bad news ahead, but the data indicates that the young, the middle aged and the healthy — of any age except 80 and older — are unlikely to die from COVID-19. That said, the virus may still incur damaging impacts short of death — there are many reports that it can cause lasting damage to the lungs.

Flattening the curve

Since Oregon began measuring COVID-19 data and mandated that most of its citizens stay at home, and even since much of the state has begun reopening, Oregon has accomplished one of its main stated goals — it has flattened the curve and ensured that our hospitals have not been overwhelmed.

After a drop in cases in mid-May, recorded cases of COVID-19 spiked in late-May and June, but that rise coincides with increased testing throughout the state. Importantly, rates of hospitalization have not risen with the spike in reported cases.

Indeed, after seeing high points of 27 and 28 for single-day hospitalizations in late March and early April, Oregon hasn't seen more than 10 hospitalizations in a single day since recording 13 back on May 10.

Oregon's upward infection rate is likely related to the combination of increased testing and the reopening of businesses across most counties in the state. But if the purpose for shutting down schools and locking down society was to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's March 23 order read in part "This order is designed to flatten the curve over the coming weeks, preserving scarce hospital space and equipment" — we have done it.

Even in Sweden, which chose not to close its society in the same way that most of the world's western nations did, there has been just one death in the 0-19 age group as of June 18.

Does that mean there's no danger from COVID-19? Of course not. Does that mean we should return to life the way it was at the start of March? Of course not.

Staying smart, staying safe

We need to keep wearing our masks and keep practicing social distancing when we're in enclosed spaces with others. The medical community needs to keep progressing toward a vaccine and developing other therapeutics. So yes, there's danger. Yes, we have to be smart about how we open businesses, open schools and return to sports.

Primarily, we need to protect the most vulnerable populations among us — and that may exclude some older coaches or officials from doing their jobs. It may also preclude older fans from watching their favorite sports — and their grandchildren — in person.

None of us want people — young or old — to die or be harmed by the COVID-19 virus, but we must admit that there are also dangers to continuing the shutdown while we wait for a vaccine. We must admit that there are dangers in keeping people away from their jobs, away from their loved ones and away from the things they love — including sports.


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