Port: Keeping schools closed may be more dangerous than the virus

West Fargo School District has closed schools for the week due to the coronavirus outbreak. David Samson / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — The argument against holding in-person classes this fall in our K-12 schools is obvious.

COVID-19 is still very much with us. Opened schools could become new epicenters in this pandemic, spreading the virus to teachers and staff and students and thus homes across our communities.

The argument for in-person classes, beyond the immediate need to provide our children with a robust education of the sort you can only achieve in a classroom, is less obvious. The negative effects are harder to measure.

Harder, but not impossible. We're beginning to get a clearer picture of what school closures have done to our kids, and it isn't pretty.

"[T]here has been another cost that we've seen, particularly in high schools," Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a recent Buck Institute webinar . "We're seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We're seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID. So this is why I keep coming back for the overall social being of individuals, is let's all work together and find out how we can find common ground to get these schools open in a way that people are comfortable and they're safe."


It's difficult to measure the scope of this problem because data about suicide and overdoses are reported on an annual basis. Even then, the data is lagging a year. We may not see the full impact of the pandemic, statistically, for a couple of years.

The pandemic has only been upon us for a matter of months. We don't have anything approaching comprehensive data.

We see trends, though, and what they portend for the collateral damage from pandemic shutdowns is terrifying.

Here's the American Medical Association : "More than 35 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder in counties and other areas within the state."

During the Great Recession of 2008, the suicide rate for the United States of America was 6.4% higher than projections .

About 2.6 million people lost their jobs during that recession, according to research published in the British Medical Journal. Depending on how you count as many as 40 million Americans may have lost their jobs in recent months , according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

Which brings us back to the schools. If keeping grownups in social isolation, distant from friends and families and meaningful work, puts them at risk of substance abuse and self-harm, what does it mean for our kids?

Nothing good, I'm afraid.


By the way, if you're having a hard time, there's help available. Visit or dial 211 from any phone. Or just call a friend.

To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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