Are you willing to wear a surgical mask during the winter to help prevent the spread of influenza? Since I've not seen a single mask in public, I'll go out on a limb and say the answer is no. While a mask may be of limited value in preventing the wearer from coming down with the flu, it serves as a barrier for the infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk." The CDC also says that the flu can be transmitted up to six feet away. To be sure, there are probably people you would like to maintain that distance from, but for the most part, it would be a sad way to conduct your everyday affairs. Rather than adopt a germophobia outlook, most people take a prudent and rational approach to the flu that may include a vaccination as well as good personal hygiene and staying home when ill.
This year's prospect of a severe flu season is but one of a myriad of dangers that each person evaluates and eventually is tallied on a collective scorecard of perceived threats to society. In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, school safety is one such threat that is once again being scrutinized. Renewed arguments for limiting or banning firearms are converging with calls for putting guns in the schools, usually in the form of placing law enforcement officers on site to protect students.
While the euphemism of “school resource officer” is used to describe the presence of police in schools – the primary function is that of an armed guard. It's well and good that little Susie can have an extra friend and mentor but the ultimate purpose of an SRO is to prevent Susie and her classmates from being attacked. The question is: Is the risk worth the resources as well as altering the fabric of the school environment? If doing everything to protect against danger is the highest value, why not fence in our schools with barbed wire and an array of surveillance cameras? Along with the guards, it would help acclimate those students who move on to prison life.
Putting cops in schools intuitively sounds as if it could be an effective shield for our kids. However, unless coverage includes every school bus, playground, library, field trip outing, community league sports event, etc., are we kidding ourselves about protection?
It's not to say there is nothing that can be done to lessen the threat and impact of mayhem committed against our children. From allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons to installing “panic” buttons in classrooms – there are options. For the parent who perceives the risk to be significant, homeschooling is a possibility. While it won't prevent their loved one from all harm, it will at least ensure that their child will not be a victim of a school shooting.
The CDC's methodology for calculating flu-related deaths is inexact, but estimates range as high as 50,000 in a given year. This statement is not meant to trivialize the deaths of students and staff killed in school shootings but rather to place it in perspective. A risk-free society is not possible, but a paranoid, fearladen one is. Preventing bad things from happening can’t be guaranteed, but there is no end to measures that can be taken in the vain attempt to reach the illusion of absolute safety.