At this point, the United States is more than two years into what we were told would be “two weeks to slow the spread.” Life has never been the same since those fateful days in March 2020, when workplaces, schools, and every facet of public life shut their doors at the demand of the government in the name of keeping us safe.
For a few days, it was kind of fun — we got to sleep in a bit and had an excuse to stay at home and watch Netflix. Everyone who wanted an excuse to skip going to the gym now had the best reason ever: they were literally forbidden from doing so. However, forced solitude quickly became old, and people started to get antsy. After all, it’s not natural to be locked up in a cage, with the majority of human interaction coming through Zoom calls.
But beyond slowing down our economy and pace of life, the lockdowns did something else. They wreaked havoc on the public’s mental health.
As the world begins to finally open back up, we’re starting to get a picture of just how dangerous, and in many cases, deadly, lockdowns really were. While we were all affected by government restrictions, there was one group of Americans hurt more than any other: Young people.
While there were definitely early warning signs pointing to the impact of lockdowns on children over the past two years, we now know just how devastating they were. For example, one batch of data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the main federal entity that charted America’s approach to lockdowns — revealed that the number of emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts rose by 51% from February 21-March 21, 2021 among girls age 12-17 compared to the same stretch of time in 2019. This increase came in the aftermath of strict lockdowns and an overall increase in the number of emergency room visits connected to mental health reasons in 2020.
It only got worse from there. Just weeks ago, the CDC unveiled its first national study on the mental health status of high schoolers related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results were absolutely devastating.
For starters, 37% of high school students reported poor mental health, and 44% reported a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness. One CDC official even admitted that “these data echo a cry for help.”
One major reason for the decline in children’s mental health was that, after being sent home from school, they were often going back to dark environments. Many of their parents had lost their jobs, and countless families were struggling to make ends meet, and as a result, home environments became less stable than usual, and the impact on students was enormous. The study found that 55% of high schoolers reported emotional abuse from their parents, including getting sworn at, insulted, or otherwise put down. A total of 11% even experienced physical abuse, including hitting, beating, or kicking.
Back in April 2020, the National Sexual Assault Hotline revealed a 22% increase in monthly calls from people under 18, with half of all incoming calls coming from minors — a first in the entity’s history. Of those young people who contacted the hotline in March of 2020, 67% identified the perpetrator as a family member, and 79% said they were currently living with that perpetrator. In large part due to forced lockdowns, there was nowhere for these children and adolescents to go in order to get away from their abusers. This story echoed all over the world, from Asia to South America; India’s Childline service, for example, received more than 92,000 calls in 11 days, while in Bolivia, more than four dozen cases of violence against children were reported each day since the lockdowns began.
So what was the true, underlying cause of this mess? According to the CDC, one significant problem was a lack of “school connectedness” — that sense of “being cared for, supported, and belonging at school.” By double-digit margins, children who felt connected to adults and peers at school were less likely to report sadness or hopelessness, to consider suicide, or to actually attempt suicide, but the CDC also noted that only 47% of youth said they felt close to people at school during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is certainly difficult to feel connected at school when the government won’t allow you to actually go to school.
We can also now ask the question of not just what, but who was the true, underlying cause of this mess? As it turns out, the answer is oftentimes the CDC, itself.
In March 2020, the CDC began recommending that schools work with local health officials to determine COVID-19 risk, even suggesting that “extended school dismissals” may be in the cards when high rates of community spread were observed. This was definitely an understandable recommendation to make early on in the pandemic, as the world was still trying to figure out how dangerous COVID-19 actually was.
But within several months after COVID-19 arrived in the United States, however, it was abundantly clear that the disease primarily impacts older adults and those with underlying health issues. Our reporters noted in June of 2020 that the COVID-19 death rate for children in New York City — at that point the American epicenter for the disease — was zero per 100,000, after CDC officials remarked that the actual number of positive COVID-19 cases in the U.S. was probably much higher than the official, reported number of confirmed cases.
Recognizing this reality, a few Western nations kept their schools open without a hitch. Sweden, for example, continued in-person instruction as much as possible, complemented by distance learning technology when teachers had to miss class due to COVID-19 exposure. Throughout the entire pandemic, Sweden reported a mere 23 COVID-19 deaths for children among nearly 500,000 cases. That’s 0.0046%.
Did the CDC adjust their policies based on these observations? No. In fact, more often than not, it seemed that they made decisions based on political expediency, not “the science.”
Emails between the American Federation of Teachers — the nation’s second-largest teachers union — and the CDC showed that the union lobbied to keep schools shuttered and according to The New York Post “even suggested language for the federal agency’s school-reopening guidance” released in February 2021. The AFT spent almost $20 million to elect Democrats in the 2020 election cycle, and their investment definitely paid dividends through their bought-and-paid-for allies in the Biden administration. When confronted by the media, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki claimed that “it’s actually longstanding best practice for the CDC to engage with organizations, groups that are going to be impacted by guidance and recommendations issued by the agency.”
More recently, a report from the Republicans House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found that the Biden administration’s CDC had a “cozy relationship” with the AFT on COVID-19 guidelines. In one instance recorded in the report, AFT senior director of health issues Kelly Trautner emailed CDC Director Rochelle Walensky requesting a line be added to upcoming guidance not yet released to the public. Walensky forwarded the line to CDC Center for Preparedness and Response Director Dr. Henry Walke, and it was included in the guidance.
The CDC had the nerve to say that “schools, families, and communities” need to step up and protect children from the fallout of CDC decisions. “What will it take for our schools and communities to help youth withstand the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond?” asked one CDC administrator.
It seems that a good place to start is by not trusting the CDC to decide what’s best for children. Maybe that role should’ve stayed with “schools, families, and communities” in the first place.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.