Comparing Two Border Towns, “What the Pandemic Cost Teenagers”
We were having dinner with some friends recently, and we got to talking about life, and kids, and COVID-19. Our friends mentioned a story they read recently. They said it was a fascinating read.
The reporter looked at two different border towns- one in Texas, and one in New Mexico. On the Texas side, they explained, the schools stayed open. On the New Mexico side, the schools closed. And the impacts on kids compared between the two border towns was remarkable.
What else was remarkable about this story? The fact that the COVID-19 numbers weren't really that different on both sides of the border, but the kids in New Mexico suffered greatly.
I figured I had better track down this story. Better yet, I was able to track down the author- Alec MacGillis. He wrote this incredible piece for ProPublica titled, "The Lost Year: What the Pandemic Cost Teenagers."
Think about, if you were a kid in Texas, you still got to go to school. You largely didn't have to wear masks. And you still got to play "Friday Night Lights" football. Just minutes away, right across the border- you got none of that. No school. No football. And you better wear a mask everywhere.
MacGillis wrote about the rash of suicides and suicide attempts that hit the town of Hobbs, New Mexico, and he put the issue in a national context:
As many of these experts have noted, the cost of restrictions on youth has gone beyond academics. The CDC found that the proportion of visits to the emergency room by adolescents between ages 12 and 17 that were mental-health-related increased 31% during the span of March to October 2020, compared with the same months in 2019. A study in the March 2021 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, of people aged 11 to 21 visiting emergency rooms found “significantly higher” rates of “suicidal ideation” during the first half of 2020 (compared to 2019), as well as higher rates of suicide attempts, though the actual number of suicides remained flat.
We caught up with Alec MacGillis recently on the radio. You can listen to the full conversation on our "Montana Talks with Aaron Flint podcast."