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Opinion

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Prudence still warranted as virus data continues to prove troubling

A couple of truths I’ve had to remind myself of repeatedly in the past few months:

1. The opinions I encounter – on social media, in newspaper columns, readers’ letters and even yard signs – represent neither the entirety of the spectrum nor the nuances of any given issue.

2. A public school district must act not only in the best interests of students, families and staff, but also the fiduciary interests of taxpayers.

These truths resurfaced Thursday afternoon in conjunction with three data points: the state’s single-day record of new COVID-19 cases (4,015), the largest one-day death total since June 24 (53) and a near-perfect split to a statewide survey (31% say the worst of the coronavirus is behind us, 35% say the worst is ahead and 34% can’t decide).

Empower Illinois surveyed 800 registered voters Sept. 27 to 29, so that data lags a bit behind the state virus statistics (which have their own, smaller delays), but a bigger picture emerged. For every loud voice asserting virus mitigation efforts are misguided, overblown or – perplexingly – only going to last until the election ends, there are large swaths who keep trying to do their best to minimize spread even if they’re not quite sure what the future holds.

The survey reports 54% of respondents are more concerned about COVID-19’s public health impact, while 36% are more worried about the economy. It says 30% are working like they always have, 18% are now remote, 9% have lost hours or pay and 11% are laid off, furloughed or otherwise unable to work.

Only 26% of respondents have a K-12 child, but 55% of all who answered support current restrictions on contact sports, and additional 7% said all high school sports should stop.

Without belittling the 31% opposing any sports restrictions, it’s clear differing values and priorities inform responses.

In high school, I loved football largely because of what it meant in terms of the marching band, broadcasting club and newspaper. Obviously, it’s important to the players, many of whom hope the sport bridges to higher education. But balancing the upside against the health of athletes, coaches, officials or spectators mandates risk-reward calculus, and that puts me among the 62% content waiting for the next kickoff.

Running sports or reopening schools requires not just installing, but affording safety precautions. There are practical liability concerns as well as the incalculable question of who, and how many, a decision-maker is willing to put at risk.

Surely, some readers will call me reactionary, fearful or capitulating. I much preferred normal life and would like to return. But in a time of such uncertainty, prudence feels warranted. It’s not a bold statement, but that doesn’t negate its validity. Be safe.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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