Fact check: WaPo column vastly exaggerates COVID death rate of teachers in push for closed schools

Dana Milbank, like the most of the rest of The Washington Post’s staff, isn’t particularly impressed with the idea of schools reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This isn’t just fine, it’s expected. We’ve lost enough jobs due to the pandemic, after all, and while I wouldn’t shed many tears over Milbank cashing unemployment checks, an opinion writer for The Washington Post who’s against lockdowns probably won’t be an opinion writer for The Washington Post much longer.

Not that Milbank needed much prompting. “Sure, send our kids back to unsafe schools, even though it isn’t ‘in the best interest of anyone,’” his Oct. 9 column read. Just in case you couldn’t read the room, this was sarcasm on his part

“Children are about to become victims of a lethal combination: pressure on local leaders to reopen schools, a shortage of necessary testing capacity, and Washington’s failure to send states the funds needed to protect students and teachers,” Milbank wrote in the second paragraph.

Then came this: “Even with the limited school reopenings so far, the disproportionate number of teachers appearing in covid-19 obituaries is striking. But much worse lies ahead if large school districts buckle to pressure to reopen without necessary protections.”

Now, unlike the first paragraph, that’s not just rhetoric. That’s a very specific claim: If so many teachers are dying that you can peruse the obituaries and get the evidence, Milbank didn’t do the work himself.

It remains unmentioned for the rest of the piece, which largely criticized Washington, D.C.’s school reopening plan.

Normally, this would be the kind of thing that Wikipedia would mark as [citation needed]. Except, as Corey DeAngelis of the libertarian Reason Foundation noted, the citations were already out there and directly contradicted what Milbank was claiming.

Milbank’s evidence for the claim was a hyperlink in the piece — to his own opinion column. That Oct. 6 piece links to @FacesOfCovid, a Twitter account which provides a brief spotlight to those lost to the disease and is in no way a scientific study.

His earlier column also provided some examples of teachers who have died of the coronavirus. While their deaths are tragic, they don’t provide proof of a larger trend.

Nowhere is there evidence, either in Milbank’s column or on the @FacesOfCovid account, that we’re losing a “disproportionate” number of teachers.

DeAngelis, meanwhile, cited a study from Sweden providing evidence this isn’t the case.

DeAngelis also cited data from Brown University’s Emily Oster as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

“Her data — covering almost 200,000 kids across 47 states from the last two weeks of September — showed a Covid-19 case rate of 0.13% among students and 0.24% among staff,” the outlet reported.

“That’s a shockingly and wonderfully low number. By comparison, the current overall U.S. case rate is 2.6%, an order of magnitude higher.”

Oster, DeAngelis pointed out, also discussed that research in The Atlantic in an article titled “Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders.”

“It’s now October,” Oster wrote in the article published Oct. 9.

“We are starting to get an evidence-based picture of how school reopenings and remote learning are going (those photos of hallways don’t count), and the evidence is pointing in one direction. Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19.”

To back up his claim about a “disproportionate” number of teacher deaths, Dana Milbank cited (indirectly, by linking to one of his previous articles) a Twitter account and several tragic — but rare — pieces of anecdotal evidence.

Who do you believe?

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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