Are you responsible for gambling with another person’s life?
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court says “yes.”
Back in 1947, James Malone, 17, and William Long, 13, played a version of Russian Roulette during a sleepover.
Malone stole a revolver from his uncle and Long sneaked into his father’s room and got a bullet.
They put the cartridge in a chamber, spun the cylinder and then took turns pointing the gun at each other and pulling the trigger. On the third try, Malone put the gun to Long’s head, pulled the trigger and the gun fired, killing Long.
Malone was convicted of second degree murder even though he said he hadn’t intended to kill his friend.
The case, Commonwealth v. Malone, eventually went to the state Supreme Court where justices upheld the conviction.
“When an individual commits an act of gross recklessness without regard to the probability that death to another is likely to result, that individual exhibits the state of mind required to uphold a conviction of manslaughter even if the individual did not intend for death to ensue.”
Lawmakers and school administrators better pay heed to this and similar nationwide decisions.
Reopening schools to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic is tantamount to Russian Roulette with the lives of students, teachers and families.
Every day with this virus in the physical classroom is like spinning the cylinder and pulling the trigger.
You might survive, but every time you enter the building your chances of getting sick increase until the law of averages will come for someone… perhaps many someones.
We can’t take such chances with people’s lives.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Decisions makers are taking the possibility seriously enough to try to change the laws to reduce their liability.
They want to ensure they won’t end up in court if they reopen schools and people get sick.
In May,Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for schools to be legally protected from lawsuits that could arise due to resuming classes.
Along with fellow Republican Senator John Cornyn, McConnell proposed new liability laws protecting schools and businesses from Coronavirus-related lawsuits.
“Can you image the nightmare that could unfold this fall when K-12 kids are still at home, when colleges and universities are still not open? That is a scenario that would only be further aggravated in the absence of some kind of liability protection that reassures school administrators that they can actually open up again… Without it, frankly that’s just not going to happen as soon as it should have.”
The Kentucky Senator went on Fox News in late April saying that such legal protections would be necessary for Republicans to even consider any new Coronavirus relief bills.
According to those who were either on the call or were knowledgeable about the conversation, the college presidents said they needed to know their institutions would not get sued if people got sick – which they thought was almost a certainty.
One way the federal government can help “is to have some kind of liability protection,” said University of Texas at El Paso president Heather Wilson, who was on the call. Wilson is a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico.
Big business is also calling for liability protection. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been asking to be freed during the pandemic from being held liable if workers, customers or others get sick on their property. Notably, a lawyer for Texas Christian University told senators such a situation is “foreseeable, perhaps inevitable.”
All of which begs the question of what we mean by safety.
Is it our responsibility to make sure customers, workers, students and teachers are safe from the virus? Or is it our responsibility to make sure businesses and schools aren’t sued for taking chances with our lives?
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There are things we can do to increase safety.
We should not reopen schools until the county where it is located reports zero new Coronavirus cases for two weeks. That would be taking safety seriously.
And it shouldn’t be too much to ask because other countries have been able to do such things.
Other nations have been able to test for the virus and identify those who have the disease. They have been able to trace these people’s contacts and isolate them from the rest of the population.
But that requires a vast expansion of our testing ability through coordinated federal action.
The problem is our lawmakers don’t care enough to do this.
Nor are they willing to provide us with federal relief checks, personal protective equipment (PPE), protection from evictions, and universal healthcare so that were can weather the storm.
Some will say the danger is overblown.
Children, in particular, are less susceptible to COVID-19 than older people.
And while it’s true that young people have shown fewer symptoms and include the lowest numbers of deaths, this virus has been around barely more than a year. We simply don’t know much about it and its long term effects.
A recent study from the journal the Lancet found that teenagers are just as susceptible to the disease as older people.
Researchers found few children 5-9 (the youngest included in the study) who had contracted the disease but those ages 10-19 were as likely to contract it as people ages 20-49 – and more likely than adults older than that.
So even if young people remain mostly asymptomatic, it is entirely possible they can spread the disease to older people who have a more difficult time fighting it off.
We certainly don’t want to end up like countries that have opened schools too quickly with too high infection rates.
In May, two weeks after Israel fully reopened schools, there was a COVID-19 outbreak. There were at least 130 cases at a single school. Students and staff were infected at dozens of schools causing a rash of renewed closings.
We should not be taking chances with schools.
Any action comes with some level of risk, but we should err on the side of caution.
And anyone who gambles with our lives needs to be held liable.
Anyone who demands we place our heads against the barrel of a loaded gun as a prerequisite to jump start the economy, needs to be held responsible for that decision.
The chances of dying during the first round of a game of Russian Roulette using a standard six-shot revolver is 1/6. With each pull, the chances increase – 1/5, 1/4, etc.
The average number of consecutive pulls before the gun fires is 3.5.
We know more about that than the Coronavirus.
In effect, we don’t know how many chambers are loaded, but we know there are bullets in the gun.
There are too many hidden factors to be able to say for sure what our chances are exactly. And in the presence of such ignorance, we should assume the worst.
That’s exactly what decision makers are doing by trying to protect themselves from responsibility.
We should take that as seriously as a loaded gun put to our temples.