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What is killing young people in Idaho? It isn’t COVID….

Every January, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare releases a Mortality Annual Report for the year that started two years prior. So, in January 2022, the Mortality Annual Report for 2020 was released. What did it show and how did those stats differ from years prior?

Well, to start, it showed a massive increase in chronic liver disease, which is often caused by excessive alcohol consumption, and self harm from 2019. And it also shows a significant decrease in chronic lower respiratory diseases, often caused by smoking. We don’t want to assume, but wonder if the decrease in deaths for those diseases were perhaps considered as COVID deaths, since COVID is more deadly for people with current respiratory conditions.

As you probably already know, no children died of COVID in 2020. Sadly, however, 124 school-aged children died from other causes: heart disease, cancer, accidents, self harm, other illnesses…. We aren’t going to go into all of them, but wanted to highlight a few…

We’d like to start by pointing out that one child died of flu and three of pneumonia in 2020. Did we hear about those kids? Were they in the news? Were their tragic deaths used to stoke fear into every parent that it could happen to their child? No, of course not. Sadly, healthy and unhealthy children alike can and do die of flu or pneumonia every year. It’s tragic, heartbreaking,often unexpected and a loss no parent should ever have to suffer. But it still happens and isn’t used to scare people or try and alter everyday life for kids. Were these deaths before or after the onset of COVID? We aren’t sure, but it would be interesting to know especially if those deaths occurred during the nine months of lockdown/other COVID mitigation strategies. That would be yet one more piece of evidence that the strategies do not lower disease spread, hospitalization or death from diseases. One child died of asthma and one from an unspecified respiratory illness.

Fifteen children died of “other diseases”, up from thirteen the year before. “Other diseases”? What does this even mean? Presumably this is a bucket for every illness or disease that isn’t prevalent enough to have its own category in the spreadsheet, but that is a shockingly high number of deaths to be dumped into an “other” bucket. Did any of those kids make the news? Are parents living in fear of their children contracting and dying of an unknown, unnamed disease? No, of course not!

What about transportation accidents. Both years, 28 children died in transportation accidents and yet many kids ride in cars every day. Do we live in fear of our children dying in a car crash? Does the school district put strict measures in place to lower the chances of students, teachers, their families and community members dying in car crashes? Again, no, of course not even though the chances of a child dying in a car crash far exceed the chances of him dying of COVID.

Drowning claimed double the number of children in 2020 as in 2019 but, it’s easy to double a low number by going from two to four deaths. This is still in the realm of "normal" for Idaho, where youth drowning deaths bounced between 3 and 6 per year between 2014 and 2018. Drowning typically claims 1,000 children’s lives per year in the US and is one of the leading causes of deaths in children, particularly infants and toddlers. Do we still take our kids swimming and give them baths? Yes. Parents understand their child could become injured or die, but they do not live in fear, panic, keep their kids away from water or engage in complicated mitigation strategies when around water. In this particular instance, regular exposure to safe swimming locations (such as a City pool) and access to swimming lessons is one of the best ways to reduce drowning deaths. And yet, in 2020, City pools were closed and no swim lessons or swim team was offered. In 2021, only a few pools opened with limited access, a limited swim team was available, but no swim lessons were offered. It's possible the closing of City pools in 2020 is responsible for those two additional drowning deaths and we could see increased drowning deaths for years to come due to the loss of safe water exposure and swim lessons of the past two years.

Where we really start to see the tragedy of what might be related to the REACTION to the pandemic is with regards to “accidental poisoning due to drugs and other substances” (drugs) and suicide. These two categories are already struggle-areas for our youth even if they don’t result in death. What we see in 2020 that could be from the REACTION to the pandemic (not the pandemic itself, but of closing school, canceling activities, shutting our kids inside and telling them their very presence could kill another person) is a huge increase in both of these areas. In 2019, only one child died due to drugs/other substances, but seven died in 2020. The number of youth who took their own lives also increased dramatically by jumping from 27 in 2019 to 36 in 2020, a 33% increase.

This doesn't even include the number of children who sought help or were hospitalized for substance use/abuse or mental health. This only shows the tip of the iceberg, the most tragic losses who didn’t get the help they needed.

What we’re potentially seeing due to the reaction to the pandemic is trading something that, statistically speaking, is not dangerous to kids (COVID) for something that already was a problem for kids (substance use and mental health). What a terrible trade-off for our youth and so unnecessary.

What will 2021 show? We won’t know for another year and hope so desperately for fewer losses in all areas. What we do know is that kids need normalcy now. They need to be able to see their friends’ and teachers’ faces and smiles. They need to be able to hear and express themselves clearly. They need to have consistency in the rules, not be living in a constant state of stress and anxiety trying to skirt the rules whenever they can or being afraid of getting in trouble. They don’t need to be worried that their presence could potentially kill another person. They need their friends, their activities, their field trips and group projects. They need it all.

They need CHILDHOOD and they need it NOW.


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