The Coronavirus Seems to Spare Most Kids From Illness, but Its Effect on Their Mental Health Is Deepening

Pandemics can be indiscriminate, with viruses making no distinctions among the victims they attack and those they spare. If you’re human, you’ll do. COVID-19 has been different, particularly when it comes to age. The disease has shown a special animus for older people, with those 65-plus considered at especially high risk for hospitalization and death, and those 18 and below catching a semblance of an epidemiological break. Though a small share of adolescents have suffered severe cases, most who contract the disease in that age cohort are likelier to experience milder symptoms or none at all.

But if COVID-19 is sparing most kids’ bodies, it’s not being so kind to their minds. Nobody is immune to the stress that comes with a pandemic and related quarantining. Children, however, may be at particular risk. Living in a universe that is already out of their control, they can become especially shaken when the verities they count on to give the world order–the rituals in their lives, the very day-to-dayness of living–get blown to bits.

“I worry that kids will get a double wallop,” says Ezra Golberstein, a health-policy researcher at the University of Minnesota. “There’s the disease itself and the fear of it. On top of that, you’ve got the lock-downs, with kids removed from the school environment and their friends.” As summer approached, many of the 12,000 camps in the U.S. either postponed their seasons or canceled them altogether, further leaving children isolated. “Especially for kids predis-posed to seeing the world in pessimistic terms, there will be more anxiety because they feel so much more out of control,” says Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist specializing in children, and co-author of Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents. “We’re hearing kids say, ‘I’m afraid for myself, for my parents. What if we get sick?’”

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