Vance: It's time to let them play
Let's start by being honest — I am neither a doctor nor an epidemiologist.
And it's extremely likely that you aren't either.
But I want to talk about the return of sports in the Covid-19 era.
First, I will acknowledge my bias. I've covered sports — mainly high school sports — as my primary profession for most of the past 33 years and I want to do so again. Right now, I don't have the opportunity to write about sports, photograph sports or interview the athletes who play sports — and I hate it. I miss it more than I ever knew I would.
Further, I know how important sports were to me as I grew up — and I know how important they remain for today's athletes. They yielded lasting friendships, enduring life lessons, a fulfilling career path and more. I want today's athletes to have those same chances, the chance to bond with friends through practice and competition, the chance to work with difficult teammates, and the chance to experience the challenges presented by demanding coaches, big games and losing streaks.
For all those reasons and a thousand more, I want to see the return of youth and high school sports, and I want to see them return sooner rather than later.
At the same time, while I'm healthy — I walk, run or bike every day and still play softball and golf — I'm not young. I'm 58 and therefore not far away from the age groups most targeted by the coronavirus. Beyond that, I have family members and many friends, especially at church, who are in the age groups most threatened by Covid-19, some of them with the underlying medical conditions that make them among the most vulnerable in our population.
I don't want any of them to die.
With all that as pretext, and as a regular user of Twitter, all I can say is this — #letthemplay.
I want our youth and high school athletes to have the same chances I had to play the sports that they love, and I think we can do it safely.
First, young people — especially healthy young people such as high school athletes — are in the age group least likely to suffer the worst outcomes of the Covid-19 virus. In Oregon, as of Wednesday, May 13, there have been just 130 cases of Covid-19 among residents ages 0-19 and zero deaths. Indeed, only six 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, and thus far, thankfully, no one in that age group has died.
The news for those ages 20-39 — representing 27% of Oregon's population — is generally good, too. As of May 13, there have been 1,075 cases of Covid-19 in that age group, 68 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 1,177 cases of Covid-19, 195 hospitalizations and eight deaths.
In the 60-79 age group — 21% of the population — there have been 792 cases of Covid-19, 300 hospitalizations and 62 deaths.
Finally, in the 80 and over age group — a group that represents just 4% of the state's population — there have been 223 cases of Covid-19, 105 hospitalizations and 64 deaths.
Of all people tested in Oregon — 83,909 as of May 13 — just 3,338 (4%) turned up positive.
So, we know this much for sure — the disease hasn't been deadly for Oregon's young, and hasn't been particularly deadly for the middle aged. While it has wrought a terrible price on our state's aged residents — 48% of all deaths have come from the 80 and over age group — there is some mitigating data there, as well.
Oregon Public Broadcasting posts a regular update to its website regarding Covid-19 data and deaths. Among the 10 most recent posts to OPB's website that reported Covid-19 deaths — going back to April 28 in the middle of the pandemic — 33 of the 34 people who died between April 23 and May 12 (the span covered by those posts) also suffered from 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 three weeks — those who didn't also suffer from underlying medical condition were unlikely to die from Covid-19.
To be fair, 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 — 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.
Since Oregon began measuring Covid-19 data and mandated that most of its citizens stay at home, the state has accomplished one of its main stated goals — it has flattened the curve of infections and hospitalizations.
On March 20, Oregon reported 84 new cases resulting in 27 people being hospitalized. On March 23, there were 84 new cases with 29 hospitalized. And on April 1, there were 87 new cases with 28 hospitalized. Those days mark the three worst days of the pandemic in Oregon.
Since April 1, the three worst days of reported cases/hospitalization numbers have been: 62/18 on April 3; 58/10 on April 10; and 55/13 on April 19. After April 19, both reported cases and hospitalizations have trended downward.
Certainly, Oregon's downward infection rate may be related to the shutdown of in-person learning at state schools, business closures and the implementation of social distancing measures. But if the initial reason for the shutdown of schools and the lockdown of 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 May 13.
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.
Covid-19 seems to be highly transmissible, it's hard to detect (many people contract the virus but don't show symptoms for weeks or never at all) and it is extremely dangerous to older people with underlying medical conditions.
Further, we don't have a vaccine yet and other therapeutics have had mixed results. So yes, there's danger. Yes, we have to be smart about how we open businesses, open schools and return to sports.
We need to protect the most vulnerable populations among us — and that may exclude some older coaches or officials from doing their jobs, and it may preclude older fans from watching their favorite sports — and grandchildren — in person.
I don't want people — young or old — to die or be harmed by the Covid-19 virus, and I know you don't either. But we must admit that there are also dangers to keeping society locked down while we wait for a vaccine, and 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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