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Did Dr. Deborah Birx Just Figure Out the Downside of Lockdowns?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Dr. Deborah Birx is the winner of today’s Captain Obvious award. In an interview with Fox’s NewsNow, she discusses the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on her own family. This follows the backlash she received for traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday with family members despite her own warning to Americans to avoid travel.

First, I want to say I know how difficult it is. Caring for my family members that are in an age range from just over one to and all the way up to ninety-six has been extraordinarily difficult. Because the children have been pulled out of preschool and have no playgroups, they don’t see anyone else. So that’s been very difficult. My parents have gotten deeply depressed by the level of social isolation. They haven’t been out of the house in ten months. They haven’t seen their son. They haven’t seen their grandchildren. I know every American has been struggling.

Well, there is an understatement for 2020. An extended and well-sourced Twitter thread on the pandemic response shows lockdowns have not just been difficult, they have been deadly and will continue to be so until this overreaction in response is ended. This much is clear: people need other people and a purpose. Here are just a few items from the thread and other sources:

  • Like Birx’s grandchildren, toddlers are regressing from achieved developmental milestones such as potty training and the ability to feed themselves.
  • Almost half of the black-owned small businesses have been wiped out.
  • 70% of adults aged 18-23 report suffering symptoms of depression
  • Adults aged 25-44 years saw the largest increase in “excess” deaths from previous years, a stunning 26.5% increase, despite accounting for fewer than 3% of deaths from COVID-19.
  • Suicide and suicide attempts have increased at an alarming rate, including among children.
  • Education achievement gaps have widened, and early literacy is declining.

In another interview with Newsy, where Birx indicated she plans to retire in the near future, the good doctor had some unmitigated gall in justifying her holiday travel:

“My parents stopped eating and drinking because they were so depressed,” the 64-year-old complained to Newsy.

“My daughter hasn’t left that house in 10 months, my parents have been isolated for 10 months. They’ve become deeply depressed,” Birx said of the need to “recover from the trauma of the last 10 months.”

Uh, yeah, Doc. So does everybody. According to CDC data, the Washington Post reported that as of the end of September, an excess of 13,200 people had died of Alzheimer’s and dementia due to isolation, not the virus. And many more are going into rapid decline. I would like to know how Dr. Birx justifies her own actions to address the vegetative symptoms of depression her parents were suffering to someone like Dan Goerke:

Since the pandemic began, Goerke’s wife, Denise — 63 years old and afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease — had declined dramatically. Left alone in her nursing home, she had lost 16 pounds, could not form the simplest words, no longer responded to the voices of her children.

In recent weeks, she had stopped recognizing even the man she loved.

Goerke, 61, could tell the isolation was killing his wife, and there was nothing he could do but watch. “Every day it gets a little worse,” he said. “We’ve lost months, maybe years of her already.”

A fascinating study would examine the pandemic’s mental health impacts in the areas Lockdown Inc. controls, versus states such as Georgia and Florida that have remained open. In Georgia, my friend’s 86-year-old father still meets his friends every morning for their decades-old ritual of sharing coffee and reading the news. I sat next to my older friend Annie last night while she played her weekly Bingo game.

I also know a group of older Americans who started a COVID-19 bubble in June. They only socialize with each other, maintain distance, usually outside, and break bread together at least once a month. It breaks the monotony, and they have fun planning to host one another. When I walk my dog, I see older Americans walking on the trail, mask-free, getting their vitamin D, and exercising. And smiling.

It looks like Dr. Deborah Birx is finally able to hold two ideas in her head at once. This is what those of us who have opposed lockdowns since day one have been advocating all along. The effects of isolation and lockdowns are severe. We need to mitigate those with smart ways to keep people socially engaged and active and safe at the same time. Certainly, outdoor activities, social bubbles, and contact with a limited group are good ideas.

So, Birx and her colleagues should really just shut up about what the rest of us need to do, especially if they aren’t going to do it themselves. A large majority of Americans are smart enough and caring enough to mitigate COVID-19 and the devastating effects of isolation at the same time.

WATCH Dr. Birx on NewsNow 

Have COVID-19 Lockdowns Saved Any Lives? Let’s Take a Look at Federal Data