Children’s health and development has been severely harmed by COVID-19 policies such as mask mandates, school closures, and lockdowns. This has been intuitively known for a long time, and parents and teachers have been ringing the alarm bell. Now there is additional scientific data which clearly shows the harms to children’s health that have occurred over the last couple years. Here are some metrics to consider.
CDC Reports on Child Emergency Room Visits and Child Mental Health
The CDC recently released two interesting reports about children’s health over the course of the pandemic:
Pediatric Emergency Department Visits Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 2019–January 2022
Pediatric Emergency Department Visits Associated with Mental Health Conditions Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 2019–January 2022
Although the total number of ER visits for children dropped during the pandemic, it is really important to note that there were increases in ER visits related to mental health problems and self-harm. Here is a snapshot from the CDC report:
Here is a summary of the data from the CDC reports:
Child ER visits for mental health problems were significantly increased in 2020 and 2021, as compared to 2019.
Children are suffering increased levels of:
o Neurodevelopmental disorders
o Psychosocial problems
o Eating disorders
o Drug poisoning
In children ages 0-4yo, the main increases were in ER visits for psychosocial problems (increased by 38-55 visits per week) and neurodevelopmental disorders (increased by 18-45 visits per week).
In children ages 5-11yo, the main increases were in psychosocial problems (increased by 38-55 visits per week), self-harm (increased by 6 visits per week), and drug poisoning (increased by 7 visits per week).
Adolescents 12-17yo have suffered the greatest increases in mental health problems.
o Self-harm increased by 30 visits per week during 2020, 210 visits per week during 2021, and 207 visits per week during January 2022.
o Drug poisonings increased by 12 visits per week during 2020, 171 visits per week during 2021, and 178 visits per week during January 2022.
o Eating disorders increased by nine visits per week during 2020, 41 visits per week during 2021, and 38 visits per week during January 2022
o Psychosocial problems increased by 78 visits per week during 2021 and 62 visits per week during January 2022.
o Mental health conditions (depression, eating disorders, OCD, anxiety, etc) and substance use increased by 113 visits per week during 2021 and 197 visits per week during January 2022.
The CDC report went on to say that,
“prolonged time at home… might have amplified adversities and stressors among others. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences, such as loss of parents and caregivers, increases in parental mental health challenges and substance use, and financial vulnerabilities might have been exacerbated by the pandemic and are associated with poor mental health outcomes among children and adolescents… In addition, the pandemic disrupted social and physical activities: many adolescents have experienced substantial disruption to daily and academic routines, faced uncertainty and loneliness, and increased social media use.”
Here in New Mexico, I've talked with parents, school personnel, and social workers who are concerned about increased mental health problems in children due to the pandemic response measures (including lengthy school closures and mask mandates). For instance, a school social worker in Albuquerque reported greatly increased levels of anxiety and depression in schoolchildren.
Some New Mexico parents reported that their children suffered depression and even suicidal thoughts due to the COVID measures. In some cases this has led to tragic outcomes, such as an 11-year-old New Mexican boy who killed himself as a result of school closures.
COVID Mandates Have Led to Double-Digit Drops in Reading Benchmarks in Schools
A recent study in Virginia has found that reading benchmarks in children from kindergarten through second grade have fallen by over 13% over 2019. “The effects were particularly harmful for black and Hispanic students, as well as children who are disabled, low-income, or not fluent in English.”
I've talked with hundreds of New Mexico teachers and school personnel over the last two years, and they have reported that masks and school closures had significant negative impacts on education. They have reported that masks directly impede the learning of crucial skills such as reading and mathematics, have serious negative effects on children’s emotional and developmental health, and interfere with children’s ability to learn communication and facial expressions.
Doctors Call for an End to Child Mask Mandates
The negative health impacts of masks on children are so apparent that numerous doctors have called for an end to child masking, including the following:
Shira Doron, MD, a hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center and associate professor at Tufts University School of Medicine
Westyn Branch-Elliman, MD, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School
Elissa Perkins, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and the director of emergency medicine infectious disease management at Boston Medical Center
Nicole Johnson, MD, a pediatric critical care specialist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio
Jessica Hochman, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, practicing in Southern California
Lucy McBride, MD, a practicing internist in Washington DC
Tracy Beth Høeg, MD, a physician, an epidemiologist and an associate researcher at the University of California at Davis
Allison Krug, MD, an epidemiologist in Virginia Beach
Monica Gandhi, MD, an infectious-disease physician and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco
These are just a few of many doctors called for an end to child mask mandates. Additionally, one psychiatrist in California has banned child-masking altogether (as a form of child abuse) in his practice.
Clinical psychiatrist Dr Mark McDonald MD went on to say that,
“Physicians are mandated reporters. When we witness or suspect child abuse, we are obligated both ethically and legally to report it to social services or the police. If a child shows up for therapy or medication treatment covered with cigarette burns, a doctor cannot ignore it. Masks are no different. They may not leave physical scars (although they often result in painful skin infections that can lead to permanent facial disfigurement), but they do cause significant and possibly permanent damage to a child’s brain, retarding speech and language development, crippling social skills, and inciting a vicious cycle of emotional dysregulation leading to major depression, self-harm, and substance abuse.”
Preventing This from Happening Again
It is clear that the last two years have been detrimental to children’s mental, emotional, and educational health. Even though lockdowns, school closures, and mask mandates have been dropped here in New Mexico and in many other states, there is nothing to stop this from happening again in the future.
Now is not the time to get comfortable just because the mandates have been dropped. We must demand that state and National legislatures make permanent changes to the laws and emergency powers to make sure this will never happen again.