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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Colleges can't fully protect kids, and that's OK

Students walk near the Widener Library at Harvard

Students walk near the Widener Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on Aug. 13, 2019. Credit: AP/Charles Krupa

My daughter’s college, Brandeis University, is trying to make my wife and I and the Beloved Sapling comfortable with the idea that its promised precautions can protect her from coronavirus.

We’re not. They probably can’t.

But we’re sending her back, and not just because as the summer has worn on and her parents have worn out she’s started asking questions like, “When you run away with all your belongings stuffed in a kerchief on a broom handle, exactly how do you fasten the kerchief?”

We are comfortable sending her because we understand she may very well contract coronavirus, and we don’t believe the disease is dangerous enough to a healthy 19-year-old to justify shutting down her life.

Plus, she can’t spend many more nights with us without things going sideways. Once we’re done with “Schitt’s Creek” and have to try to pick another show for the whole family, things will be said that can never be taken back or forgiven.

Brandeis is doing everything possible to stop the spread of the coronavirus while letting a significant percentage of students return to campus. Everyone is in single rooms. Masks must be worn everywhere. Students from practically anywhere other than the Northeast must show up two weeks before classes for a quarantine that’s basically solitary confinement with better snacks. And the rules of living and studying include every reasonable precaution to stop the spread.

The same is true of other colleges that recently announced their various fall plans, like Harvard, Princeton, Hofstra and Stony Brook universities.

There is a good chance the plans won’t work and a good chance that, in terms of the health of the kids themselves, it might not matter.

Between the beginning of February and the end of June, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12,388 people in the United States between the ages of 15 and 24 died, of all causes.

Only 142 of them, or just over 1%, died from the coronavirus.

Coronavirus is a terrifying scourge for people over age 75, and a real worry for anyone over age 50, as well as anyone who is obese or has chronic health problems.

But as far as killing healthy young people, it’s practically a statistical nonstarter. By far, the biggest killer of college-age kids is automobile accidents, and I’ve never thought that danger suggests the Angelic Acorn ought to stop riding in cars.

Nor am I suggesting that the precautions colleges are taking to stop the spread are wasted. Everyone needs to do everything possible to keep case numbers down. My kid and her friends are unlikely to get seriously ill from the virus, but that doesn’t mean they have a right to recklessly catch and spread it.

Even if they’re careful at first, they will eventually meet and greet and laugh and sing and dance and talk and kiss. We would have, too. In fact, in my college social group, we rarely passed a full day without seriously endangering ourselves somehow.

These kids ought to be on campus, together. There, the biggest emphasis must be on keeping the older people with whom they come in contact, staff and faculty and those they see off-campus (yes, Virginia, they will leave campus!) safe from the virus some students will catch.

But if we are worrying about young people, the last thing we should do is isolate, stymie and depress them. Because the second-biggest killer of college students, after car wrecks, is suicide, and the coronavirus can’t hold a candle to it.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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