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CDC says child abuse hospitalizations 'increased significantly' during pandemic, despite emergency room visits plunging

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The coronavirus lockdowns have numerous consequences

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During the coronavirus pandemic, there was a major drop in emergency room visits for cases of child abuse. However, child abuse hospitalizations "increased significantly," according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emergency room visits for cases of child abuse and neglect of children under the age of 18, plummeted 53% in mid-March compared to the same time period in 2019, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that was published on Friday. At this time, the White House introduced the "15 Days to Slow the Spread" strategy, President Donald Trump proclaimed a national emergency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and several governors began to implement stay-at-home orders.

"The total number of ED visits related to child abuse and neglect began decreasing below the corresponding 2019 period during week 11 (March 15–March 22, 2020) for all age groups examined, coinciding with the declaration of a national emergency on March 13 (2); simultaneously, the proportion of these visits per 100,000 ED visits began increasing above the 2019 baseline for all age groups," the CDC revealed.

Even though visits to the emergency room plunged, hospitalizations of children suffering from abuse or neglect increased.

"Despite decreases in the weekly number of ED visits related to child abuse and neglect, the weekly number of these visits resulting in hospitalization remained stable in 2020; however, the yearly percentage of ED visits related to child abuse and neglect resulting in hospitalization increased significantly among all age groups," the health agency reported.

"The percentage of ED visits related to child abuse and neglect ending in hospitalization increased significantly among children and adolescents aged <18 years, from 2.1% in 2019 to 3.2% in 2020," the CDC stated. "Significant increases in the percentage of ED visits related to child abuse and neglect ending in hospitalization were also observed for children aged 0–4 years (3.5% in 2019 versus 5.3% in 2020; p<0.001) and 5–11 years (0.7% in 2019 versus 1.3% in 2020; p<0.001), and adolescents aged 12–17 years (1.6% in 2019 versus 2.2% in 2020)."

"Although the increased proportion of ED visits related to child abuse and neglect might be associated with a decrease in the overall number of ED visits, these findings also suggest that health care–seeking patterns have shifted during the pandemic," the report stated.

Regarding the increased hospitalizations, the CDC hypothesized, "Heightened stress, school closures, loss of income, and social isolation resulting from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic have increased the risk for child abuse and neglect."

For the report, CDC analyzed data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program between Jan. 6, 2019, and Sept. 6, 2020. Child abuse hospital visits were labeled as such if the facility "documented suspected or confirmed physical, sexual, or emotional abuse."

The emotional toll of the COVID-19 lockdowns and switch from in-person to remote schooling has affected young adults. The CDC found that more than a quarter of young adults in the U.S. considered suicide in the month of June.

"There has been another cost that we've seen, particularly in high schools," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in July. "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."

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