The holiday season is in full swing and with it usually comes long travels, great food, and a lot of time with family. But this year, the holidays look quite different. As COVID-19 cases are on the rise, a few localities, like the city of Dallas and Harris County, are advising residents to cancel their holiday gatherings. Many are even considering new shutdowns.
Let’s be clear: Forcing Texans to endure another round of COVID-19 lockdowns, especially during the holidays, will do more harm than good—for both body and mind.
It didn’t take long after the initial wave of government shutdowns for a mountain of evidence to emerge exposing the unintended consequences. Several months later and the evidence continues to develop demonstrating just how consequential this broad policy is.
In April, experts estimated that “a prolonged shutdown could bring tens of thousands of deaths through spikes in…suicide, heart attack, missed cancer diagnoses, domestic violence deaths, substance abuse, and more.” Although extensive data analysis proving the full extent of damage resulting from these lockdowns may take years, evidence from just the last nine months already paints a gruesome picture.
Less than a month into the lockdown, crisis hotlines across the nation experienced a rapid increase of calls and texts from people seeking help. In March alone, the Federal Disaster Distress Hotline experienced roughly 7,000 calls and 19,000 text messages—an eight-fold increase from February.
The state of Texas launched a new mental health support line in late March to help Texans experiencing anxiety, fear, or stress because of the pandemic. Within one month of the launch, the new support line received nearly 2,000 calls.
If history can teach us anything, it is that disasters can be devastating to an individual’s mental health.
Between fears of getting sick, anxiety over joblessness, and stress induced by isolation, the government’s misguided policies continue to harm many Americans. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2018 to Aug. 2020, suicidal thoughts among young adults increased by 14.8 percent. In late June alone, at least “40 percent of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse.”
And mental health is not the only health-related area experiencing an increase of danger this year.
Spikes in domestic violence quickly emerged as “shelter-in-place” orders took effect. Almost immediately, shelters and hotlines were swamped with calls, texts, and visits from survivors. SafeHaven of Tarrant County, an organization that operates two shelters and a 24/7 hotline, has received over 50 percent more calls per day.
Domestic violence homicides have also been on the rise, indicating that domestic violence offenses spiked in both frequency and severity. By early October, domestic violence homicides had more than doubled in Tarrant County, Texas. Seattle, Washington hit a combined total of their 2018 and 2019 domestic violence homicides.
The Houston Police Department reported increases in additional domestic violence offenses, including rapes, aggravated assaults, and sex offenses. The Houston Area Women’s Center saw “an 80 percent increase in the number of survivors in its emergency shelter program.”
As many states and local governments urge people to isolate for the holidays and threaten more lockdowns, experts warn that the holidays could cause another spike of domestic violence. Economic hardship and stress about COVID-19 already add vulnerability to such volatile relationships but adding holiday stress and more isolation could exacerbate these dangerous situations.
It’s been nine months since the pandemic began, but the increase in family violence has not slowed down.
From spikes in mental health hotlines to domestic violence homicides, the lockdowns that swept the nation in March have caused enough damage. Another lockdown would likely continue these devastating side effects.
For Texans, however, there likely won’t be another lockdown. Despite the demands from local officials, Gov. Abbott recently assured Texans that another lockdown is not on the table. Nor should it be.
As the evidence shows, lockdowns are not the answer. Renewed shutdown orders in California and New York are already in place, but the cases are still on the rise.
Texas does not need to follow in their footsteps. In fact, Gov. Abbott went on to say, “[o]ur focal point is gonna be working to heal those who have COVID, get them out of the hospitals quickly, make sure they get back to their normal lives.”
It may still take time for life to be normal again, but one step towards normalcy includes spending the holidays with friends and family. Urging folks to isolate and avoid family during the holidays is not a solution.