Commentary

Lockdowners are still unwilling to recognize harms they brought on youth

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Is it possible that despite the mounting evidence against them, some lockdown enthusiasts are still unwilling to let go of failed COVID-19 “mitigation” policies? 

When the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally updated public data this April on which US counties employed mask mandates and which did not, the picture became much clearer. Government-mandated face coverings do not stop or slow transmission of respiratory viruses, especially evident during the recent Omicron lineage variants of COVID-19.

This reality has forced the most lockdowners to contort themselves into a position that states, although mask mandates might not work, masks still work. Of course, it’s our fault that the policies have failed: the public doesn’t wear the right kind of mask, or wear them properly, or for long enough time, or in the right places. At this point, we’ve heard every excuse. Their goal is not to control viral transmission, but to normalize face coverings in daily life, science be damned.

That is why it is nearly unbelievable that in New York City, the nation’s largest city, two-to-four year-olds are still mandated to cover their faces while they attend city-run programs like daycare and public school. NYC Mayor Eric Adams insisted that he wanted to end that policy two months ago, but when recently asked, would not provide a specific timetable for doing so.

Though requirements like this are intended to protect them, young children face near-zero risk from the virus which causes COVID-19. They may be much more susceptible to other, possibly more serious pathogens than before because of “immunity debt,” or the consequences of being mostly kept away from the outside world for two years. For some of these young children, their entire life up to this point has been spent in this warped world.

On Friday, the Portland Press Herald (PPH) editorial board penned a somber note on why we should “listen to the kids struggling with their mental health.” 

After noting that “the isolation of the pandemic certainly took its toll on adolescents,” they qualify it, continuing that, “we can’t forget that isolation of a different kind was already affecting teens and pre-teens well before anyone heard of COVID-19.”

While it’s true that young people have faced rising rates of depression and social anxiety, especially since 2008, the brutal, forced isolation during the pandemic played a much bigger role than the PPH editorial board is willing to admit. The paper itself reported on the staggering 51% spike in girls presenting to a hospital following a suspected suicide attempt from March 2019 to March 2021. 

Could this blatant, willful ignorance to reality be because this same editorial page has been all-too-willing to call for more restrictive pandemic measures on Maine students over the last school year? Even after much of policymaking had shifted to voluntary guidance for adults, they left the door open to another year of mask-wearing, frequent testing, isolation from peers, and sustained learning loss.

At a recent White House briefing, a journalist asked Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID Coordinator, if he believes that “all schools will and must be open this fall.” Even while the question was being asked, it seemed as though Dr. Jha was looking for someone to bail him out. Immediately following the question, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre ends the briefing, stepping in front of Jha saying “we gotta go.”

Why wouldn’t they answer this simple question? The mental, emotional, and educational damage inflicted on schoolchildren and young adults over the last two years has been recognized by those in academia, the nonprofit sector, and governments around the world.

What’s most alarming is that they are still holding onto the failures of March 2020 halfway into 2022. By refusing to recognize the harms their incessant fear-baiting and restrictive policies have wrought on young people and society at large, political and public health officials leave the door open for more restrictions whenever they deem it necessary. This is exactly the problem.

A reasonable answer from The White House could have been: “the ultimate decisions will be made by local school districts and communities, but the public health costs of continuing to disrupt the education and socialization of America’s youth far outweigh any benefit to schoolchildren or society at large.”

Should we be concerned that reports of communications between the federal CDC and large teachers’ unions showed that powerful political groups like American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) had back-channel access to the drafting of the agency’s “school reopening” policies? 

What if executive branch officials, making broad policy decisions behind closed doors, were influenced by powerful lobbying groups which just so happen to be large funders of them and their political allies?

This is precisely why The Maine Wire requested in May and August of 2021, via Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA), any communications between the governor’s office and Maine Education Association, the state affiliate of the NEA, along with communications between the union and Maine Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Pender Makin. As of this writing, these specific requests remain unfulfilled by both offices. 

The opacity doesn’t end there. The state changed the student assessment used to measure achievement last year. This made the task of measuring effects on learning over the pandemic period impossible. Maine parents surely deserve much more government accountability than this.

For the benefit of all Americans, whether it be for social cohesion, economic stability, mental health, or basic human rights, state and federal public health officials must come to terms with the harms their policies have caused. Without that reckoning, this wretched, recent history is doomed to repeat itself.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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