Strong Lockdowns and Omelas
Epistemic status: enraged and heartsick with frustrated paternal insticts.
Let's talk about mental health during lockdown. It's proving surprisingly hard to find decent articles on the topic in the US that are more recent. Most of them seem to be from the early months of lockdown, May or June of 2020. The general consequences seem poor. Spikes in depression, anxiety, suicides, mental health diagnoses... but little in the way of hard stats. It almost seems like people are afraid to touch the topic except in gentle, soft ways. Maybe my google-fu is weak. Perhaps there will be a deluge of publications on the topic once the lockdowns have ended, and there's no longer a tribal concern that being critical and specific about the mental health consequences will give aid and comfort to "Covidiots".
But there is a topic near and dear to me on which there seems to be no end of articles, the more specific category of mental health in children.
Beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental health–related ED visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health–related visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24%. and 31%, respectively.
These are all just from the first page of obvious search phrases like "mental health effects of lockdown on children". Again, it's difficult to read through these articles (and many more besides that I've seen over the last year) and come to any firm conclusions. There's a lot of small studies, potentially unrepresentative samples, soft-peddling, vague denunciations that don't necessarily seem justified by the data provided. It feels damning that there isn't better data, like this is yet one more thing that our national health institutes are simply too incompetent to manage. Can you imagine one of those good government fantasy stories in which the available data was this poor a year into a crisis? Leslie Knope would have had something compiled in a 400 page binder with scores of color-coded tabs after a weekend; is anyone still feeling confident in their credential technocracy?
But the situation conveyed in those articles rings painfully true to me, a study of Kafkaesque bureaucracy and soulless social alienation, Iconochasm 2021, N=2.
The school my children attend has been operating on a nightmare mixed virtual/in-person schedule that seems to have been devised specifically to punish parents for criticizing earlier, less stupid, plans. Over the course of the last year, my son went from loving school, to hating it. He is an intensely social creature; the virtual classes and sterile distancing rules (and lack of gym and recess) has taken a severe toll. In fairness, my daughter has had much less of a problem, and is quite happy to do school burrowed in a nest of blankets.
Recently, my daughter was sick. Her illness consisted, in it's entirety, of a few hours of a fever of 100.5 degrees Farenheit. I did the "responsible" thing, kept both her and my son home from school, and arranged for her to get a Covid test. A couple of days later, it came back positive. A few days after that, I got my son a test. It came back negative. My daughter is required to quarantine for somewhere between 10 and 14 days (the County Health Department, pediatrician, and school all have different numbers). Because our school system (as all school systems) is operated by sniveling cowards, they presume that my daughter could be contagious (even with no symptoms) up until the last possible second the latest guideline recommends quarantine. At that point, my son's quarantine for exposure can begin. He is out longer because he doesn't have Covid. He will miss a month of in-person lessons and social contact because his sister had a mild fever for a single morning.
This is his fifth quarantine for exposure. The fifth time I've had to break the news to him, and watch him die inside. His general mental well-being has taken a brutal beating this year, and much of the blame seems like it can be laid at the feet of an institutional culture of absolute risk aversion on the part of every single layer of experts and credentialists in our society.
The most recent numbers I can easily find show that, after we'd breached over a million cases of Covid in children, the total pediatric death toll was 133. That is a 0.0128% death rate.
I don't know that I can discuss this in detail without violating community norms of niceness. I don't know if there exists an insult biting enough to convey the seething contempt I feel. On the other hand, I don't know how fair or rational I'm being, and how much of my thinking is driven by sick horror at the tribulations of one particular little boy. So I'll just say this:
There is a short story that everyone in this community should be familiar with. Ursula K. Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. If you're unfamiliar, go read the three paragraph summary at the wiki link. To the strong proponents of strong lockdowns (and in particular, any teachers who don't want to do their jobs) out there: Cast aside any pretentions that you would be one of those who choose to walk away from Omelas. By existence proof and revealed preference, you would consign more children in aggregate to worse for the mere illusion of a palty lesser prize, while celebrating yourselves for your righteousness. I hope the work-from-home was worth it.