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Column: Everything is risky business these days
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I jumped out of an airplane once. I think I was 18, and whether I thought I was invincible or just naïvely trusted the world around me, I was not that concerned about the inherent risk. 

It was something my friends wanted to do. I was sure the company we used would be safe. I don’t recall doing any research to defend that belief.  

The small group of us sat in the hangar playing Rummikub waiting for our flight up. I recall the plane was very small and I believe its interior was plush and purple. 

The flight was a bit tense, maybe a lot tense.  

When it came time to jump, I got the choice to swan dive or somersault out of the open plane door.  Looking back, I wonder if they offer that choice to give you a feeling of control once you’re staring at the earth thousands of feet below. 

Strapped to a professional skydiver, I swan dived out of the plane. 

The experience was much more peaceful than I had expected. The sky is a quiet place. The earth was so far below I wasn’t a bit concerned about smacking into it. It was all wind and quiet.  

At some point, the professional pointed out to me how we were fastened together and safe. I had not considered any possibility of becoming unattached from him, so that realization may have been the most jarring moment. But that was after he had pulled the parachute and we were gently coasting down.  

Eventually we found our field, I pulled my feet up toward my chest and his feet met the ground. 

Going sky diving now feels like an unnecessary risk. But it is actually relatively safe. Only one out of 220,301 jumps resulted in death in 2019, according to the United States Parachute Association. The activity is getting safer and safer, too. There were 15 skydiving deaths nationwide last year compared to 33 the year I went. 

The National Safety Council publishes information about the odds of dying from various causes. Skydiving doesn’t even make the list.  

The No. 1 cause is heart disease and the No. 2 cause is cancer. 

Here are the lifetime odds of dying by a few causes, as reported by the council. 

  • Opioid overdose: 1 in 98 

  • Car crash: 1 in 106 

  • Fall: 1 in 111 

  • Gun assault: 1 in 298 

  • Drowning: 1 in 1,121 

  • Choking on food: 1 in 2,618 

  • Hornet, wasp or bee sting: 1 in 53,989 

  • Lightning: 1 in 180,746  

The council hasn’t crunched the data on COVID, noting that the death results are all preliminary at this point.  

In 2020, it feels as if we must weigh the risks of every activity. 

What’s the risk of vacationing with my family? What’s the risk of sending my kid to school? What’s the risk of talking with the contractor at my house? What’s the risk of holding and kissing my nephew? What’s the risk of walking in the grocery store to pick up a bottle of wine? 

It’s exhausting. And we don’t have great data to help us make these decisions; as impatient as we are, these things still just take time. 

We do know our hospital is treating more COVID-19 patients than it ever has, 176 as of Friday. A couple of the key questions seem to be: Just how easily is it transmitted, especially by asymptomatic people? And how likely is it to kill us?  

Also, what’s the risk of not vacationing, or sending kids to school or connecting with others? 

There are always horror stories. Those in my age range have died from this virus. Those 65 and older who contract this disease are much more likely to die from it than someone in their 30s, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It’s still true that most who contract it won’t die from it.  

Rarity is one of the factors in determining if something is newsworthy. An outlet isn't going to report every death from heart disease, but if someone dies from a lightning strike, that’s news. It's important to remember this fact when consuming news, and the lack of doing so is often what leads to unfounded fears. A high-profile case of some tragedy doesn’t increase the risk of that tragedy happening to you, just your perception of it. 

As we navigate the risks of contracting COVID, driving cars, swimming in the lake and a thousand other things, it’s always a balance.  

Each of us gets to choose our level of risk, but we also should consider how the risks we take affect others.  

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. 

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