Study: Over 120,000 Children Have Lost Primary Caregiver To COVID-19

More than 120,000 children in the United States lost a primary caregiver – a parent or grandparent responsible for providing housing, basic needs and care – due to COVID-19-associated death, according to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics on Thursday.

In addition to the 120,630 children who were estimated to have lost a primary caregiver, 22,007 lost a secondary caregiver, or a grandparent providing housing but not most basic needs between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, according to the study.

“Children facing orphanhood as a result of COVID is a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States,” said Susan Hillis, researcher of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and lead author of the study.

“All of us – especially our children – will feel the serious immediate and long-term impact of this problem for generations to come. Addressing the loss that these children have experienced – and continue to experience – must be one of our top priorities, and it must be woven into all aspects of our emergency response, both now and in the post-pandemic future,” Hillis said.

The study was a collaboration between the CDC, Imperial College London, Harvard University, Oxford University, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

“The magnitude of young people affected is a sobering reminder of the devastating impact of the past 18 months,” said Alexandra Blenkinsop, co-lead researcher of the Imperial College London. “These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic and where additional resources should be directed.”

Children of racial and ethnic minorities account for 65% of children who have lost a primary caregiver to COVID-19, although they make up just 39% of the total population. Hispanic and Black children account for more than half of all children who have lost their primary caregiver.

The analysis used mortality, fertility, and census data to estimate COVID-19-associated orphanhood (death of one or both parents) and deaths of custodial and co-residing grandparents between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, for the U.S. broadly, and for every state.

“COVID-19-associated deaths” refers to the combination of deaths caused directly by COVID-19 and those caused indirectly by associated causes, such as lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings and movement, decreased access or quality of health care and of treatment for chronic diseases.

“We often think of the impact of COVID-19 in terms of the number of lives claimed by the disease, but as this study shows, it is critical to also address the broader impact,” one of the study’s co-authors Charles A. Nelson III said in a statement. “Both in terms of those who have died, and those who have been left behind.”


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