A Letter to the Editor on Passion and Reason

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I read a recently published article on Flagstaff Mom Collective that didn’t quite sit well with me. Looking at the numbers posted by NAU’s COVID-19 positive cases, the writer passionately, but petulantly implored Flagstaffians to stop blaming NAU for the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. I think the tone of the article is nearly more bothersome than the fact that the writer believes that NAU does not hold disproportionate responsibility for the rising number of cases per capita. I’d like to address both of these.

Passion is important. Passion happens when someone cares deeply about something, and passion can help motivate and initiate important changes. I hope we all feel passionate about the things for which we care deeply. We should also take care to remember how to use our passion. Passionate anger is definitely allowed, but it’s like I tell my young daughter – you’re allowed to have all the feelings, it’s only how you act on them that counts.

In this case, the writer acted on her passionate anger and frustration by accusing Flagstaffians of blaming NAU for the rise in cases. On a personal note, I don’t think I blamed NAU so much as looked at the data and made an observation that NAU’s rise in the number of cases was disproportionately high in comparison to the rest of Flagstaff. It means NAU is becoming a big contributor to the problem, and will likely, therefore, be a big contributor to spread.

Science, reason, and wisdom combined can proffer the knowledge that when thousands of young students (the greater portion of NAU’s enrollees are under 25) return to campus, there are more likely to be a greater number of in-person interactions. It’s really a bit difficult to blame young adults for the types of choices they make in their new adulthood – at a young age, most people simply do not possess the maturity and wisdom to make choices that consider all options. At a young age, choices can be more carefree and less thought-out, not only because of the invincible feeling one has, but also because for the most part, there is less responsibility taken on at that point of a person’s life. This is a generalization based in truth. We can wish, but we can’t expect, that students will not gather, will not go out to meet new people, or will always wear masks. It’s just not the reality that exists.

Because of this, we can expect that the influx of students will come with a rise in the number of COVID-19 positive cases. Instead of pointing a finger at residents for reasonably making this assumption, maybe the writer should have looked at the numbers first and then made conclusions based on facts.

NAU reported an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among their on- and off-campus students of 184% from the school week ending September 11 to the week ending September 18. The number of cases rose from 96 to 273. The number of weekly positive cases in Flagstaff itself had been decreasing since the end of June up through the week students returned to NAU on August 12. The following week, the number of weekly cases began to rise, and as of the numbers posted last week, is still on the rise. This data is all available on Coconino County’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

The Data Dashboard shows that for the week ending September 12 (the day after NAU posted its 96 COVID-19 positive cases in on- and off-campus students), NAU’s zip code 86011 had approximately 20* cases. This zip code covers less than one square mile of land area and the less than 10,000 people that live in it. On the other hand, the 86001 zip code which is inclusive of a large part of Flagstaff that covers nearly 900 square miles and has somewhere around a 6x greater number of residents reported approximately 70* new cases in the same week. This number is much lower per capita than that reported for the NAU zip code. The zip code 86004 which covers another large portion of Flagstaff (nearly 800 square miles and somewhere around 5x the number of residents as that housed in 86011) reported about the same number of cases as NAU*, a disproportionately lower number per capita. Looking at this data, it’s easy to see how residents might feel that cases at NAU are more concerning than any other part of Flagstaff.

This is where I would like to make the point that before we let our own passion take hold and allow a tone of anger to be directed at the community, we need to take a step back and breathe. This is the time to remember that we are ALL in this fight together and support each other. Look at data, look at facts, and be prepared with knowledge. The data may not be perfect, but in general, we can trust these trends (more people tested = larger sample size = better chance of accuracy in trends – it’s just statistics). Your heart may be impassioned, but let your head reason first before spouting off your heart’s desire. Come from a position of understanding, and think about why other people have formed their perceptions. If ever there was something in which we should not inject more divisiveness, it’s this pandemic. Look at the data the county provides and make reasonable conclusions instead of pointing fingers at all, and then choose to help the problem by wearing a mask, washing your hands, and social distancing. The more people practice this, and practice kindness and caring for their neighbor, the less we will have to battle in general – against COVID-19 and against each other.

*These numbers approximated from graphs posted in Coconino County weekly reports listed here: https://www.coconino.az.gov/DocumentCenter/View/36373/0916-COVID-19-Weekly-Update-Week-Number-37?bidId=

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