What's Tony Thinking

Pandemic Panic, Puberty, and the Primary


Three topics here. First, pandemic panic. Is there reason to panic? The on-line newsletter “Dispatch” noted three alarming headlines trumpeted over the weekend, but then spent some time doing the numbers and analysis in context. This seemed to me important and helpful. Here are the headlines:

From NBC News: “Exclusive: At least 125,000 fully vaccinated Americans tested positive for COVID.”
From the Washington Post: “Vaccinated people made up three-quarters of those infected in a massive Massachusetts covid-19 outbreak, pivotal CDC study finds.”
From the New York Times: “​​Breaking News: The Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and may be spread by vaccinated people as easily as the unvaccinated, an internal CDC report said.”

Reading the three headlines in quick succession, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Delta variant has rendered our existing vaccines useless—but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s start with the 125,000 figure. What’s conveniently missing from that tweet-length snippet is a denominator: the total number of Americans who are fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, it’s currently 164,757,423 . . . if we use their 125,000 figure as a baseline, that would mean 0.076 percent of fully vaccinated Americans (or 1 in 1,316) have experienced a breakthrough infection . . .

Again, the vaccines are almost assuredly not 99.924 percent effective against COVID for the reasons outlined above (both Pfizer and Moderna originally found their vaccines to be 95 percent effective against infection last fall), but that 125,000 number should be cause for celebration, not alarm.

The Dispatch editors go on, in similar fashion, to contextualize the Washington Post story. Their point is that the numbers can be made to sound like it’s time to hit the panic button, as well as induce great skepticism about vaccination. Neither conclusion is warranted by the facts.

And now puberty. There was a terrific article in the Saturday “Review” section of the WSJ by Mark Oppenheimer, titled “The Power of Purpose-Driven Schools.” Oppenheimber talks about his own childrens’ schooling and references work by psychologist David Yaeger that basically says when schools connect student’s and their education to larger, “self-transcendent purpose,” everything gets better.

Here’s the line, from Yaeger, about puberty that jumped out at me. “Puberty is the body’s way of saying you want to matter.” It means that it’s the time, or a time, when kids are naturally looking for a larger context of moral meaning and purpose. They want to matter. Good. But by and large, our society has reduced puberty’s significance to hormones, sexual activity, getting hairy and changes in brain chemistry.

Here’s Yaeger: “We structure the workforce and education to say ‘you don’t matter until you are 28′ . . . there is a mis-match between teenagers’ desire to do something bigger and society’s expectations of them.” Maybe the traditional timing of confirmation in the church makes sense after all? But I’m not sure the emphasis of confirmation, as it is often done, makes sense. Maybe it ought to be called “Equipping and Sending” instead of “Confirmation”? It’s time for a beginning not an ending.

And now the Primary. Seattle and King County voters cast primary ballots tomorrow. How many people are running for Mayor? 15? 20? Sam McKinney, longtime pastor at Mt. Zion, used to tell his congregation, “I won’t tell you how to vote, but I will tell you who I’m voting for.”

I am under no illusion that I have even a fraction of Sam McKinney’s influence at its height. But, for what it’s worth, I will tell you who I am voting for. Jessyn Farrell. The former state legislator is smart, has leadership chops and is focused on solving problems. The other candidate that seems worthy is Colleen Echohawk. I’m afraid the finalists will turn out to be Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez, neither of which bodes well for Seattle’s future, i.m.h.o.

Categories: Uncategorized