Don’t Let the Media Scare You with COVID Numbers from L.A. Schools
One of the most irritating parts about being a parent of school-aged children during the past 18 months has been trying to hack through the journalistic hysteria enough to extract useful and contextual information about COVID, group settings, and kids.
Last August, that meant brushing past the “kids are not all right” headlines to get to underlying studies showing that no, minors are not carrying and transmitting the disease in numbers similar to adults, and that the policy response of preemptively closing most elementary schools was not consistent with the available research and contrary track records in summer camps and functioning schools around the world.
This August, shamefully if not quite surprisingly, many American news outlets are exhibiting the same preference for acontextual, anecdotal sensationalism, as bedraggled parents muster themselves for a third consecutive school year marred by the coronavirus.
You can see this on a recurring basis in the way that media companies are presenting the latest findings of an unusually large dataset—weekly universal test results from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The LAUSD, which has been one of the most closed school districts in the country during COVID (despite enjoying window-opening weather year-round), is spending a staggering amount of money—$350 million—to conduct mandatory weekly tests on all 450,000 students and 60,000 employees, regardless of vaccination status. (Teachers and staff face a mandatory vaccination deadline of Oct. 15.)
There are certainly pros and cons to this massive testing regime from the perspective of L.A. County taxpayers, parents, students, and LAUSD employees. But policy soundness aside, Operation Nose Swab gives reporters, researchers, and public officials a mountain of data from which to glean and disseminate useful information.
Instead, we get headlines like this: “1,893 L.A. students, staff tested positive for coronavirus last week, group reports,” “Nearly 2,000 LA students, staff test positive for COVID-19,” “LAUSD Reports 118 New Covid Cases In One Day, Most Of Them Among Students, During First Week Of School.”
Given a humongous dataset from the country’s second-largest school district conducting an unprecedentedly intrusive testing regime, newspapers and websites are electing to emphasize the scary-sounding numerator while burying the denominator. In a kind of inverted pyramid of sensat
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