Nearly 130,000 Kids Have Lost A Parent To COVID-19

by Christina Marfice

COVID parent loss has affected non-white kids much more severely, again highlighting the disparities in how the pandemic has affected communities of color

As the COVID pandemic continued to surge over the summer, a heartbreaking new statistic emerged: Kids who have lost a caregiver to the virus. According to research published on Thursday in the medical journal Pediatrics, nearly 130,000 kids have lost a parent to the pandemic, and tens of thousands more have lost another relative, like a grandparent, who was a caregiver for them.

The research published Thursday was pulled from a wide range of data sources, including birth and death information and household composition data. Based on all of it, researchers estimate that 129,630 children have lost a primary caregiver to COVID-19 so far in the pandemic, while another 22,007 lost a secondary caregiver. One of the most heartbreaking parts of the study is how it uncovers racial disparities in COVID deaths. The data shows that 1 out of 753 white children lost a parent to COVID, while 1 out of 412 Hispanic children and 1 out of 310 Black children lost a parent.

“It is clear that this pandemic has hit every community in America, but it hasn’t hit every community with the same ferocity,” Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director of the CDC, said about the research.

The study’s lead author, Susan Hillis, said that 40 percent of the U.S. population identifies as nonwhite, but 65 percent of kids who lost parents to COVID were nonwhite.

“It’s really one of the most extreme disparities I have ever seen,” she said.

But Hillis, who is a member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Response Team, warns that those numbers are likely underestimated, because the data used for the study came from a period of time from April 2020 to June 2021 — just before the delta variant became dominant and surged across the U.S.

“Once a child loses a parent or caregiver, they’re going to need help until they’re at least 18 to 24,” Hillis said about the research. “It will be a problem that lasts for many years.”

Other public health officials have pointed out that this research begins to show the true cost of the pandemic. We tend to focus on metrics like hospitalizations and deaths, when the ripple effects of COVID have actually affected so many more people than just those who have become seriously ill. And the delta variants victims tended to be much younger than in previous surges of the pandemic, meaning more parents likely died over the summer than during previous peaks.