Meg Hansen: Theft of health from Gen Z

By Meg Hansen

Increased age and chronic comorbid conditions (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular disease, COPD) are risk factors for serious COVID-19 complications, making the Baby Boomers (aged 57 to 75 years) and the older Silent Generation especially vulnerable to the disease.

Relative to the 18–29 year old group, Boomers are four to six times more likely to become hospitalized and 35 to 95 times more likely to die of COVID-19. In comparison, the case fatality rate for children is 0.01 percent. Clinicians in Texas discovered that children are significantly less likely to become infected or spread the virus because of differences in their lung physiology and immune function.

Meg Hansen

Meg Hansen

Yet, since the pandemic broke out two years ago, public health leaders and politicians have pretended that the disease is similarly fatal to all. It has allowed them to enact indiscriminate policies – lockdowns, school closures, universal masking, and vaccine mandates – that give them a (false) sense of security and real control over society, while making the youngest Americans pay the highest price.

Losses in Cognitive Skills

Having determined that children do not transmit the virus or fall gravely ill, researchers were calling to reopen schools as early as May 2020. Dr. Benjamin Lee and Dr. William Raszka (University of Vermont) surveyed worldwide studies (Australia, China, France, and Switzerland) and concluded that children are “not significant drivers of the pandemic.” Yet, teachers’ unions opposed returning to the classroom and in some school districts, they also resisted providing video-based remote instruction to students.

How did it impact Gen Z (ages 5 to 23 years in 2020)? Consider the report by Bellwether Education Partners published in October 2020, which showed that three million children received no formal education as a result of school closures in March. Further, in a nationally representative survey of 941 K-12 educators, 97 percent reported academic and social-emotional learning losses in their students because of interrupted schooling. Scientists have found that a year in the classroom is associated with a sizeable increase in IQ. Childhood losses in learning thus risk a permanent decline in cognitive ability.

Most schools did not resume in-person teaching in the 2020-21 academic year. 64 percent of school districts opted for hybrid or remote models, subjecting students to further learning disruptions. Without structured routines, interpersonal interaction, and support systems that are available in a brick-and-mortar school environment, children across the nation began disengaging. Unreliable access to the Internet and low-quality remote instruction compounded the learning gaps. Education leaders predict that greater numbers of students will drop out.

Mental Health Deterioration

The loss of socialization, at a time when it is critical to development, has created oppressive anxiety and despair to which children have been responding with emotional and mental health crises. Last year, more children between the ages of 9 and 13 engaged in self-harm and contemplated suicide. Panic attacks, phobias about contamination, eating and sleeping disorders, and screen addiction (computers and mobile devices) have surged. In many instances, young children are losing previously achieved developmental and behavioral milestones. These signs of regression include thumb sucking, toilet accidents, poor impulse control, and temper tantrums.

Mental health disorders coexist with substance use. As expected, the rate of substance abuse amongst adolescents has grown. One study showed that the number of teenagers using alcohol increased from 28.6 percent to 30.4 percent, and the frequency of alcohol and marijuana use also rose.

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford University) asserts that the physical and psychological damage that has been caused by the shutdowns and universal mandates “will take a generation to overcome.” The present governing class won’t be around to pick up the pieces then; it is incumbent on the rest of us to hold them accountable now.

Meg Hansen is a writer and previously led a Vermont health policy think tank. She serves on the Board of the Ethan Allen Institute. She ran for state-level public office in 2020.

Images courtesy of Public domain and Meg Hansen
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