More than 140,000 children in the US had a parent or guardian die during the Covid pandemic

COVID-19 has caused more than 700,000 deaths since the virus first arrived in the U.S. early last year, and in the process has orphaned many children, a new study finds.

A joint study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – part of the National Institutes of Health -Oxford University, Harvard University and others found that more than 140,000 American have lost a parent or guardian due to Covid.

Around one child has lost a parent for every four Covid deaths, and around one out of every 500 children in the U.S. have lost a guardian because of the virus.

Minority children have been disproportionately affected, accounting for nearly two out of every three children to lose a parent.

Researchers found that more than 140,000 children lost a caregiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and fear the loss could affect families for generations (file image)

‘The magnitude of young people affected is a sobering reminder of the devastating impact of the past 18 months,’ said Dr Alexandra Blenkinsop, co-lead researcher from Imperial College London, in a statement. 

‘These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic, and where additional resources should be directed.’ 

Researchers, who published their findings on Wednesday in the journal Pediatrics, gathered mortality, fertility and census data, focusing on deaths that occurred from April 2020 to June 2021.

They looked at Covid deaths and Covid-associated deaths, meaning people who died from ancillary factors related to the pandemic such as lack of access to medical care.

In total, they found 120,630 children who had lost a primary caregiver due to the pandemic, and 22,007 children who lost a secondary caregiver – someone who provides housing for the child but not other basic needs like food and clothes.

Researchers believe these deaths will not just affect the children in the short-term, but could harm families for generations down the line.

‘Children facing orphanhood as a result of Covid is a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States,’ said lead author Dr Susan Hillis, a  Senior Technical Advisor on the CDC COVID-19 International Task Force. 

‘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.’ 

Researchers recommend health officials implement strategies to assist children in dealing with the trauma of dealing with the loss of a caregiver, and to support their mental health.

“The death of a parental figure is an enormous loss that can reshape a child’s life. We must work to ensure that all children have access to evidence-based prevention interventions that can help them navigate this trauma, to support their future mental health and wellbeing,” said Dr Nora Volkow, director of NIDA.

Minority children were especially affected by the pandemic, the study finds.

Of the 142,637 children to lose a caregiver, 65 percent – or just under two-thirds – were minorities.

One out of every 168 Native American children, one of every 310 black children and one of every 412 Hispanic children lost a caregiver due to the pandemic.

By comparison, one of every 612 Asian children and one of every 753 white children experienced the same loss.

Previous analysis have found that the pandemic has disproportionately struck minority communities, especially the black community.

More people from those communities dying means more of their children will be left without caregivers. 

‘We must address the many underlying inequities and health disparities that put people of color at greater risk of getting COVID-19 and dying from COVID-19, which puts children of color at a greater risk of losing a parent or caregiver and related adverse effects on their development,’ said Volkow.

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