I saw 12-year old Ella in the pediatric emergency department in the spring of this year. She was suffering from severe anxiety and depression after losing nearly all contact with her classmates and soccer teammates due to the COVID lock-down. Ella desperately missed the all the physical and mental health benefits that came from playing on a team. The time she spent couped up in her room on screens was making her anxiety and depression much worse.
I reflected on Ella, as I learned of Legault’s decision to cancel team sports for kids in the red zones of Quebec. According to Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, a child in Canada is 70 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital with a mental health disorder than with COVID.
Every time something is shut down for kids, there are significant effects on their physical and mental health, as well as, their social development. With the decision by Mr. Legault to cancel all team sports for kids, we will be causing considerable harm to a generation of children.
Children represent nearly 25 per cent of the population but they do not vote, they do not lobby, nor do they have unions. They do not have much recourse when things are cancelled for them as they do not protest or write op-eds.
We need to understand that the second wave is very different from the first wave. Although the case numbers are rising since the summer, this has not meant a dramatic increase in hospitalizations. The overall proportion of COVID cases that are hospitalized has decreased from 12 per cent of all cases in the first wave to 2 per cent of all cases in the second wave. This is largely due to the fact that we are now better at protecting the elderly and the younger adults who are contracting COVID are less likely to get sick and therefore less likely to require hospitalization.
The kids have done what they were told. They did not attend school for months, many of them did not attend summer camps, they are wearing masks and following the sanitary rules for sports training. They are not responsible for hospitalizations and they play a decreased role in transmission. Yet, the sports that motivate them are being taken away again.
We will emerge from this second wave through better contact tracing and protecting the vulnerable. Cancelling team sports and threatening school closure will mean kids will again pay the price for a disease that they are less likely to transmit and less likely to become sick from. Removing parents from the fields and locker rooms will likely have a far greater effect on COVID transmission than banning the kids from playing sports.
Mr. Legault, we need fewer Ellas in the emergency room and more children on the playing field.
Suzanne Vaillancourt is a Pediatric ER physician