COVID isolation suspected as factor in Buffalo, Uvalde mass shootings

Families of both suspects mention pandemic-based isolation. As academics across disciplines study negative effects of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, feds fund research on "climate crisis" effect on teen mental health.

Updated: May 31, 2022 - 11:18pm

Easy access to "high-powered rifles." A gunmaker that incorporated the "Call of Duty" video game into its advertising. Bullying from peers due to his family's poverty.

Among the possible factors contributing to Salvador Ramos' rampage in Uvalde, Texas, last week that left 19 children and two adults dead, one has been conspicuously absent: isolation stemming from COVID-19 precautions.

While a small band of public health experts and researchers — including one of Dr. Anthony Fauci's own scientists — has been warning about the mental toll from pandemic-justified isolation on young people going back to fall 2020, the feds have shown comparatively little interest in the subject.

Meanwhile, with on-again-off-again intervals of remote learning still disrupting academic calendars and student learning and emotional well-being (mostly in blue jurisdictions now), the National Institutes of Health approved more than $413,000 to study "the complex mental health impacts of the climate crisis in young people." The grant was featured in GOP Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford's "Federal Fumbles" report in April.

Salvador Ramos Sr. told The Daily Beast he hadn't spent much time recently with his son out of fear that the 18-year-old who dropped out of school might give him COVID and that he in turn could endanger his own cancer-stricken mother. 

Due to Salvador Jr.'s frustration at the COVID precautions, he stopped talking to his father a month before the rampage that left him dead, Salvador Sr. said. 

The young man had earlier moved out of his mother's house after a fight over Wi-Fi, her boyfriend told NBC News, and a government-trained forensic profiler cited the student's family estrangement as a red flag his high school ignored.

While mass school shootings are incredibly rare — one criminology database counts 13 in 56 years — the senior Ramos wasn't the only relative of a recent mass shooting suspect to speculate about the role of COVID precautions.

Buffalo supermarket suspect Payton Gendron, also 18, "was very paranoid about getting COVID," with his friends saying "he would wear the hazmat suit" to school, Sandra Komoroff, cousin to Gendron's mother, told the New York Post

Despite attending "family functions with a respirator mask on" and a family that was "vaxxed to the max," the young man recently caught COVID, Komoroff said. Both she and Gendron, in his racist manifesto, cited the teenager's pandemic-fueled isolation as a major factor behind his internet-driven radicalization.

The author of a 2021 study on COVID and teen mental health told Just the News it was "anyone's conjecture" whether COVID policies contributed to mass shootings, while "the most salient issue is easy access to firearms" for adolescents and those with "significant mental illness."

Mass shootings "serve as important reminders of the necessity of prioritizing mental health, particularly among adolescents and young adults, and doing all we can to strengthen our communities so that adolescents at risk of violence can be identified and linked to services before acting violently," said Jeanne Noble, director of COVID response in the University of California San Francisco Emergency Medicine department.

She faulted public health and education officials for paying "scant attention" to the mental health of all ages for "all of 2020 and most of 2021, despite reports of escalating rates of self-harm, anxiety, and depression among adolescents." It will take a "moral commitment to never again place the well-being of children behind that of adults" and a "substantial financial investment in youth mental health services" to change trends.

Elite opinion only recently started acknowledging some COVID policy harms were avoidable. 

Last month The New York Times highlighted the negligible transmission differences between areas where schools reopened for in-person learning and those where remote learning continued, in contrast to the yawning educational deficits experienced by the latter, especially for low-income, black and Latino children.

More broadly, academics are analyzing the effects of a wider range of COVID policies, including lockdowns and vaccine mandates.

Vaccine "mandates, passports and restrictions may cause more harm than good," public health, bioethics, law, pediatrics and infectious disease specialists from the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins University, Oxford, Harvard Medical School and U.K. medical institutions argued last week, in the British Medical Journal publication BMJ Global Health.

Authorities have repeatedly moved the goalposts on the point of mandates, from "protecting the most vulnerable" to getting "back to normal" and, now, reducing the burden on hospitals from a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," the peer-reviewed paper says.

But the science of COVID vaccines, the authors argue, points to "significant waning effectiveness against infection (and transmission)" three to four months after the most recent dose, similar rates of transmission whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, and possibly lower effectiveness in younger age groups.

"[B]road-stroke passport and mandate policies do not seem to recognise the extreme risk differential across populations" and are based on an outdated understanding of transmission risk and sometimes ignorance of natural immunity, they wrote.

"Significant public concerns about safety signals and pharmacovigilance have been furthered by the lack of full transparency in COVID-19 clinical trial data as well as shifting data on adverse effects, such as blood-clotting events, myocarditis and altered menstrual periods," the paper says. Government policies create stronger "reactance effects" because vaccine skeptics "see contradictory information as validating their suspicions and concerns."

Also last week, Johns Hopkins' Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise published an updated and expanded version of its January meta-analysis that found "little to no public health effects" from lockdown policies, incorporating "extensive private reviews and comments" from readers.

While the researchers now emphasize that "social distancing works," they more clearly distinguish it from "lockdown" — government mandates that imposed at least one non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI). 

They also removed some studies due to ineligibility while adding others and expanded their analysis of specific NPIs, which have "changed our estimates, but not the overall conclusion." 

Critics had said the paper's statistical methods and definition of "lockdown" were incorrect, did not account for the "timing" of lockdown, used poor-quality studies, was contradicted by other research, was written by economists "biased against lockdowns" and was not endorsed by the university itself.

In a new appendix, the paper responds to the "negative spin-meisters" who challenged the research, including purported fact-checkers and Imperial College London (ICL) faculty, including Neil Ferguson, whose models grossly overestimating death tallies formed the basis of early COVID lockdowns.

Just hours after the Science Media Centre published a press release with "unscientific or clearly flawed" criticisms of the institute paper from ICL faculty, Snopes copied its five claims and added three "irrelevant" criticisms for its own fact-check, the appendix says.

Foreign Policy and USA Today regurgitated those two sources, while FactCheck.org added "two new confused and misleading criticisms" to those it lifted from the press release and Snopes report. 

"The striking feature of the media flow is its unoriginality," with little evidence anyone after the Science Media Centre even attempted a "primary" reading of the meta-analysis, the researchers wrote. Those subsequent reviews also left out positive comments about the institute paper by a professor cited in the press release, showing how "highly politicized" the purported fact-checking industry has become.

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