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OPINION: As physicians, mothers and daughters, we have concerns with COVID-19 rules
Children’s needs being ignored during pandemic – sometimes with fatal results
• Dr. Mary Kestler, Dr.Jennifer M. Grant, Dr.Martha Fulford, and Dr.Corinne Hohl
What if everything we are doing to protect the elderly from coronavirus is causing irreparable harm, including more deaths, to our children? What grandparent would choose to have their grandchild live a life of lower quality or opportunity than they had? What parent would accept that their child’s health be harmed as a matter of policy?
These may seem like ridiculous questions, but the decision to do all these things is being made on a daily basis in our response to COVID-19. If that is true, we need to discuss if this is what we really want to accomplish. We are not people who want to see older people die. We are physicians, we are mothers and we are daughters. We love our children and we love our parents. We care for COVID-19 patients and see the damage it has done. However, it is with increasing distress that we have watched Canadian decision-makers de-prioritize the legitimate needs of our youth.
We have watched young children be denied free play in parks and community centres, socialization and education — and with these losses, much-needed access to social services for the most vulnerable.
Even now, with schools reopened, many schools are not providing the full-time service that our young people deserve and need to thrive. Almost all universities are offering only online classes and denying access to places on campus that allow social and academic interactions. Youth and young adulthood is the time that people develop the skills and relationships that last their lifetimes.
The medical and statistical truth is that the young are not at risk from COVID-19. Compared to other common respiratory infections like influenza, COVID-19 is less deadly and less likely to result in hospitalization for those under age 30.
For example, influenza claimed the lives of 10 children in Canada under the age of 10 during the 2018-19 flu season. In comparison, COVID-19 has been associated with two deaths under the age of 20 and nine deaths among those between 20 and 29. Further, it’s not clear how many of those deaths were due to COVID19 rather than due to another cause with COVID19 as an incidental finding.
While COVID-19 does not pose a significant health threat to children and youth, our response does. Suicides claim the lives of close to 4,000 young Canadians per year. In June, more young Canadians died in one month alone from opioid overdoses than from COVID-19 in B.C. But those deaths are not being announced on a daily basis on social media.
Yet we have demonized young people who wish to socialize. Those who are caught are paraded out for group shaming or receive hefty fines. We have ensured that the common places that young people would be able to meet are unavailable — schools, universities and athletic venues — especially for those who cannot afford private lessons or clubs. Outdoor places are closed if the young are seen congregating too much, even though these are the places least likely to be associated with disease spread.
In Canada, around 80% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes. The argument to impose restrictions on the young is that if they become infected, the infections will inevitably percolate to the elderly, causing deaths.
However, it is not because a 20-year-old university student goes to a seminar with 20 classmates that her grandmother will be infected. There are many opportunities to avoid this by improving care in nursing homes, ensuring people avoid visiting the elderly when sick and ensuring that those caring for them have sufficient security that they are not incentivized to come to work while ill.
Many will argue that choosing between children and the elderly is a false dichotomy and it is. There is no reason that we can’t ensure our children have what they need, while also providing excellent care for our elders. We propose that we do both by ensuring adequate funding for elder care and carefully considering how important it is to ensure the mental, physical and emotional health of the people whom we have pledged our lives to raise and protect.
— Dr. Mary Kestler is an infectious diseases specialist and clinical assistant professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine.
— Dr. Jennifer M. Grant, MDCM, FRCPC, is an Infectious Diseases Specialist.
— Dr. Martha Fulford is an Infectious Diseases Specialist and Associate Professor at McMaster University.
— Dr. Corinne Hohl is an Associate Professor in UBC’s Department of Emergency Medicine. She is the nominated Principal Investigator of the Canadian COVID-19 Emergency Department Rapid Response Network (CCEDRRN), which has harmonized data collection across 50 Emergency Departments across Canada to contribute scientifically to our pandemic response.