It's impossible to know whether the Los Angeles student would still be alive had schools been open. But the incident underscores how our assessments of various risks are often wildly at odds with the actual dangers posed by them. As Wall Street Journal columnist Greg Ip argues in a recent book, things we do to keep ourselves safe may actually put us in even more danger.
Policymakers, in theory, are supposed to be able to draw on data and the experience of experts to protect us from the real dangers, rather than the imagined ones. But politicians are simply people, and too often they're subject to the same irrational fears and overreactions as the rest of us. The risk of dying in a terror attack is about the same as the risk of getting crushed by falling furniture.
It goes without saying that the odds of getting killed by a car are much, much higher than either of those. If the reports out of Los Angeles are accurate, it appears that policymakers failed to keep these odds in perspective when deciding to shut down schools on the basis of an email.