Are people actually going to keep their kids under house arrest until June 29th?

I posted this question on my personal FaceBook page a few days ago, upon receiving confirmation that schools would remain closed for the duration of the academic year. That was no surprise. But what it also means is that all youth and high school sports are also cancelled. Churches have been closed since the middle of March, as well. Now word that many summer camps and programs have started making decisions to cancel or go “virtual”.

These are facts, as reported by the MA DPH as of April 23

1. Out of 2360 reported COVID-19 deaths:
a. Not one person under twenty has died in Massachusetts,
b. 24 people under 50 years old have died,
c. 1504 people over 80 have died.

2. Of 1014 completed investigations, 97.9% had comorbidities.

3. Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities account for 56% of the deaths in Massachusetts. Nationally, this ratio is about 22%. If the national average held for Massachusetts, we’d be closer to 1300 deaths total – not 2360. The first outbreak in the US – in a nursing home in Kirkland, WA – was a harbinger.

4. Average age of confirmed COVID-19:
a. cases: 54 years old
b. hospitalizations: 68 years old
c. deaths: 82 years old

It’s clear that COVID-19 is quite dangerous for people who are already medically fragile or live in a facility for the elderly or infirmed.

Yes, young people can become infected, and a very few can become quite ill. It’s my belief, however, that the harms of locking down all children outweighs the benefits of doing so.

Upon posting the above, I expected a range of responses, but was truly shocked to see how supportive people are of the current lockdown. As usual, some people actually turned hostile at the mere suggestion of letting our kids roam free. A sampling of responses:

• “Yes, if it keeps people from dying.”
• “It’s the least we can do.”
• “Yes!”
• “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” (I think Spock would agree with me….)
• One referred to the “absence of leadership and moral authority by the federal government” (as if that has anything to do with cancelling Little League; still scratching my head on that one).
• And by far the most hurtful: “This virus is much bigger than our self-interests.”

To be clear, my household is supported by two secure incomes. We can both work from home. We’re spending more time with our kids. We’re saving money on commuting and lunches. We’re getting more sleep. We’re fortunate and we get that. Other than watching our 401K balances bounce around, our biggest concern is for our kids. And our concerns are legitimate.

Many parents are clearly very willing to subject their kids to harm that we won’t be able to measure for years. Our kids are missing a third of a year of school, spring sports, friends, routine, and other social and physical outlets – is it all worth it? It seems so, as long as it’s for the “greater good”.

But is it? More facts:

1. There are nearly 60 million kids in K-12 schools in the US. Add another 12 million full-time college students attending 4-year colleges, plus those attending part-time and community colleges. That gets us up to approximately 80 million young people – 25% of the US population – who have been forced to “shelter-in-place” without social or physical outlets. This group is at practically no risk but is paying the heaviest price. We won’t fully realize how price they’ve been forced to pay for years.

2. Many of these kids come from homes of the 26 million people (and counting) who have lost their jobs in the last month. That’s one in six people who’ve lost their job. This number is expected to surge as more people become eligible under the CARES Act. By the end of April, unemployment is expected to be 20%.

3. According to a recent Boston Globe article, reports of child abuse and neglect have fallen off a cliff. This is not because the abuse has gone away – it’s because children are trapped with their abusers, away from mandated reporters. The risk to these children will compound if their households face financial strain on top of everything else. Given that not a single young child has died of COVID-19, it’s safe to say that the suffering of these helpless children will be greater because of the lockdown.

4. As a result of the 2008 Great Recession, suicide rates increased by a conservative estimate of 4.9%. During that recession, the unemployment rate never exceeded 10%. Additionally, that recession was not accompanied by a global pandemic. A significant increase in mental health issues is already anticipated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and government responses to it. On top of being the most at risk of death due to COVID-19, the elderly are also likely to be particularly at risk of suicide. Local suicide prevention hotlines have already seen a surge in calls.

5. The lockdowns were meant to keep our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, not to eradicate the virus. It was not to reduce the number of infections, but to spread them out. Mission accomplished. This was the justification that was accepted by most Americans. Now people seem willing to hibernate until the virus is completely eradicated, which is not a reasonable expectation. There are two routes to herd immunity – mass vaccination and mass exposure. If it’s the latter, we don’t know how long immunity might last. But we know that a vaccine can take years to develop and get approved. It’s more likely that effective treatments will be found in off-label use of existing therapeutics. There are dozens of clinical trials currently supporting that effort.

It’s very possible these government-mandated lockdowns are doing more harm than good. We won’t be able to tally the damage until it’s all in our rear-view mirror, but we can learn from history and from what’s going on currently and make adjustments as necessary. The problem is that no one seems willing to back down from the harsh measures that were put in place when models were telling us we could see up to 2.2 million deaths in the US. I find it hard to believe that knowing the damage done as a result of the 2008 recession and how long it took to recover, that people are willing to inflict even more damage and sacrifice even more people this time around.

When we apply a one-size-fits-all solution to the entire society, we divert resources from where they’re most needed. It’s clear that the biggest challenge to controlling the spread of the virus in Massachusetts is not on our soccer fields, but in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Their residents are not free to come and go – they are sitting ducks. These facilities require different protocols than schools, workplaces, restaurants and other public spaces.

Kids just want to go out and hang with their friends. So do many of their parents! As the weather gets nicer and the death counts go down, people will become restless and take matters into their own hands. The town should begin to re-open recreational areas in a controlled fashion, sooner rather than later.

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