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THE END IS ALWAYS NEAR: Taking Calculated Risks in a Risky World

This is Mauricio. Mauricio is 8 years old. Mauricio is taking his first Final Exam at Escuela Bilingue El Camino. And, this is Isaacc.

Isaacc is nine. And no, that is not a double typo. The story goes that when Isaacc’s Mom went to the Municipio to get his birth certificate done, the Registry Clerk misspelled his name as Isaacc. Isaacc’s Mom sitting there next to him said, “Uhhmm you misspelled his name!”

The following dialogue then ensued:  

Registry Clerk: “Well, it will cost extra for the ‘name change’. “

Mom: “But you just misspelled it!” 

Registry Clerk: “The name change form is a different form… and you don’t expect me to work for nothing do you?”

Mom: “How much will it cost?” 

Registry Clerk: “The service fee for a name change is 310 lempiras.” 

Mom: “All right, Isaacc it is then.” 


Then, here is Madi. Madi is 7 years old. She’s growing so fast I didn’t recognize her. It didn’t help that she was wearing a mask.

Kids These Days…

But hey, all of these kids are wearing masks, while taking Final Exams. Why is that? Well, it is not because our missionary teachers wanted to make things harder on them…..and hotter….and more distracting. Who would make children wear masks to take their exams? And, what might be the unintended effects for the developing child of requiring them to wear masks “to protect them from some supposed dire infectious threat?” It won’t be nothing.

Here is Mauricio drawing a self-portrait after the test. Note the mask on his self-portrait. We’d better have a pretty good reason for doing this. Will these masks keep our students safe from the peste du jour, Covid-19? We do take seriously the safety of our kids, so we considered the question seriously. It is a two-part question actually:

1.) What is the likelihood of young (5-13 years old) healthy school children  contracting Covid-19 from other young healthy school children? 

2.) Will making them wear surgical masks lower that risk

Crunching Numbers

From careful research, as there has not been a reported case, the likelihood is apparently less than the likelihood of bowling a perfect 300 point game. That does happen occasionally. The odds are about 1 in 11,500, (unless of course you are me, and the odds of me bowling a perfect game are considerably worse than that). 

The odds are less than the likelihood of drawing a Royal Flush, which are 1 n 69,470. That happens quite rarely. 

The odds are even less than the odds of drawing the winning number at Powerball, which last I checked were 1: 292,201,337. So I didn’t buy a lotto ticket.  

Considering that as best as is known, there has never been 1 reported case (that we can find with a diligent internet search) in the history of the world of a school child between the ages of 5-13 years old, who is otherwise healthy, (with no co-morbidities) contracting Covid-19 from other young healthy school children, we estimate that the odds are somewhere less than the odds of getting killed by a meteorite strike; which is known to have happened at least once in the past 200 years and is estimated at approximately 1 in 10 Billion. 

No, aside from the fact that there has not been a single known case of Covid-19 in our area, we are as sure as we can be, that the risk of our school kids getting sick from Covid-19 by going to school, is an almost unmeasurably small risk. So, we are not making our students wear masks for their final exams because we think they need protection from Covid-19.

Still, that leaves the second part of the question “Will making them wear surgical masks lower that risk?” The answer to that question is just plain: NO. Between training and practice in the US/Loma de Luz mission hospital, I have been a Surgeon for nearly 40 years now and I can tell you that surgical masks are designed to keep the surgeon from breathing into an open body. In contradistinction to respirators, surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer from what they breathe in. They are NOT designed to protect the surgeon from the patient. They are designed to protect the patient from the surgeon. 

“El Protocolo” of Silly Things

So, we are not requiring our students to wear surgical masks to take their exams because it makes any sense…. No, we are doing it for the same reasons you were required to do a lot of things that don’t make any sense. 

We are doing it because that is what the authorities required. We actually had to get special permission from Lily, the Distrital (the local school superintendent) for the students to be able to come in at all… in groups of 5… to take their exams: “as long as they followed “el protocolo”. Now Lily is actually a very good Distrital, and she was kind of going out on a limb for us… and she didn’t come up with the “el protocolo”. It was handed down from the powers that be; powers like perhaps our friend the Registry Clerk on steroids. 

So, our students have just now successfully taken their final exams, in groups of 5 at a time, while wearing surgical masks. But, we did not require them to wear meteorite hats. 

Meteor hats were not spelled out in the “protocolo”. And when they got back outside, they did what sensible kids do. They took off those silly hot and stifling masks… and we smiled and took their picture. 

Don’t think I’m saying this is the first time school children have been required to do silly things the authorities said was for our own protection. I was just a year or two younger than Mauricio, and Isaacc, and Madi at the height of the Cold War at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. That risk was a much more real one, as the world balanced on the edge of a knife with nuclear annihilation on either side. There were approximately 30,000 atomic weapons in the world at the time. And the acting policy of the nuclear states was “Mutually Assured Destruction”. No, the risk was real. It was just what all school children were required to do that was patently silly. We were required to routinely practice drills in which at the sound of the teacher’s whistle we all crawled under our desks and covered our heads with our hands and kept our eyes squeezed shut. I must confess, I peeked. And, as I looked around and up at the underside of my little desk I can remember thinking, “How can my desk protect me from bombs that destroy cities? That doesn’t make any sense.” 

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I think most of us peeked and wondered the same thing.  

It worried my little head a lot though. Those momentous and threatening things that grown-ups I’d never met were doing out there. But what kept me from being too worried, was that the grown-ups I had met, particularly my Mom and my Dad, they didn’t talk scared and they didn’t act scared. 

It was perhaps just a year or two later when the Communist Chinese government did their first atmospheric test of their own nuclear weapons. We were told by the authorities that we weren’t supposed to eat the snow or even play in it. It might be radioactive. Man, I thought, they even made the snow out to get us. I remember walking home from school through the first big snow of that winter, and when I came in the kitchen door I asked my Mom if we were ever going to get to make snow ice cream again. She stood for a minute looking at me. I guess she could see I needed some help sorting through a world which can’t be trusted. So after a minute, she sent me back out in the back yard with a big pan to get some fresh snow. She added vanilla and some sugar, and we sat down together and shared a big bowl of snow ice cream. 

No, the world is not to be trusted. It never has been. I recently read The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse To Nuclear Near Misses. by Dan Carlin, a good recounting of the History of the world’s teetering walk along the precipice. There have always been few guarantees in life. As Bilbo Baggins used to say “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” It is a risky world. The end is always near… and if time is an arrow, it is undeniable that it is nearer now than ever, regardless of whether you’re a Christian missionary teacher in the Honduran jungle or a law firm exec in the Big Apple.

Jesus addressed this head-on. In the Olivet discourse, just a few days before His crucifixion, his disciples were asking about the end of the age:

“4 – Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
5 – For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.”
6 – “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”
7 – “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”
8 – “All these are the beginning of birth pains”. …. And later in the same teaching…….   36- “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”….. and later still …….45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
46 – “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.”

The end will come. But if you sit there waiting for it, that’s all you’ll do. Better to be on about the Master’s business, taking calculated risks in a risky world. For the world seems to be needing some courage just now… some grown-ups who will help a kid sort  through a world which can’t be trusted by acting like the servants of a Master …………who can be trusted.  That is the mark of the high calling we reach for…… at Loma de Luz.