No child is an island – uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 stresses kids and families. We need a statewide mask mandate.

I am Dr. Allyson Cundiff. I live in Nashville, where I grew up, and have been caring for children here as a child psychiatrist for nearly 6 years since completing training.  I completed my residency and fellowship training at Vanderbilt and currently practice as an attending physician at Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital.

Dr. Allyson Cundiff

This year has been tough for everybody. This is the time of year when we typically experience higher patient volumes, but this year has been much worse than expected.   Coronavirus has forced many children to stay home because it is not yet safe to attend in-person classes.  Parents are working from home, while trying to juggle the responsibility of assisting their children with virtual learning.  And many parents have lost jobs, placing additional financial stress on an already emotionally stretched family unit.

The vast majority of the kids I see cite COVID19 as a big stressor in their lives.  Either their home lives are more stressed, tension is high and the stress is pervasive, or they have become more depressed, unable to continue in their normal ways of life.   

If you can remember being a kid and imagine what it would have been like to suddenly not be able to connect with your friends every day, see extended family members, forego birthday celebrations, or participate as a team member in your favorite sport or extracurricular activity, you might be able to understand how this pandemic has impacted them.

No child is an island outside of their family unit.  When the family is stressed, that stress trickles down to the kids in the family.  It’s only a matter of time.  Parents are trying to do the best they can, but it’s difficult when they are already stretched themselves and now required to do so much more.  This is particularly hard on parents who are frontline essential workers who bear the additional worry that they may become infected themselves and bring it home to their families.

I’m in a nationwide network with other child psychiatrists, and I can tell you that we are all tired. Like many of my colleagues, I am a mom myself of two young children, and I am frequently exhausted.  I worry from day to day whether my day care arrangements for my children are stable, and, even though I now do many of my outpatient visits virtually, I live with the constant possibility that I might become infected while in the hospital, and bring it home to my family.

Scientists and health experts are telling us how to control the spread of this virus – wear a mask, maintain social distance, wash your hands. It seems so simple, and many Governors across the country have issued statewide mask mandates to help control the spread of coronavirus in their states.

Unfortunately, here in Tennessee, Governor Lee has ignored scientists, health experts, and even the White House Coronavirus Task Force who have been telling him for months that we need a statewide mask mandate and a coordinated plan to help get COVID under control.  Instead, Governor Lee has pushed this responsibility off to local mayors, school boards, employers and parents to figure out how to deal with a global pandemic all on their own.

We are fighting two fights: the physical threat of COVID-19 and the emotional fallout from COVID-19. 

Now more than ever before, there is a great need for more resources to be directed toward mental health services for our children, particularly in rural communities, where it is next to impossible to find a therapist for kids and their families.  

As a mental health professional and as a parent, I know that it is the best for our kids, socially and emotionally, for our schools to be open for in-person classes – BUT schools must be safe for our children to attend.  If we in Tennessee could get a better grasp on the spread of the virus, we would be able to keep our schools open safely, and alleviate some of the fallout from unnecessary exposure and quarantine.

Governor Lee, we need decisive leadership from you.  The uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 is leading to avoidable school closures and endangering the lives and health of our  parents and children.  We can contain COVID-19, but it depends on having a statewide plan and especially a mask mandate.