140,000 U.S. Children Have Lost a Parent or Caregiver to Covid-19, CDC Finds

140,000 U.S. Children Have Lost a Parent or Caregiver to Covid-19, CDC Finds
A covid-19 memorial wall in London, England on April 6, 2021. (Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe For Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice, Getty Images)

New research provides a grim toll of the number children who have lost a parent to covid-19. The study estimates that at least 120,000 kids have lost their primary caregiver to the pandemic, while another 20,000 have lost a secondary caregiver, as of the end of June 2021. These deaths were disproportionately more likely to affect children of racial and ethnic minorities.

A study this April estimated that nearly 40,000 children 17 and younger had lost at least one parent to covid-19 in the U.S. as of February 2021. This new study, led by CDC researchers and published Thursday in the journal Pediatrics, seems to have used a different method for the estimates, but it also looked at a longer time frame — through June 30, 2021 — and tried to account for the loss of grandparents who may have acted as primary or secondary caregivers.

By the new study’s estimations, 120,630 children lost a primary caregiver to deaths directly and indirectly caused by the pandemic; another 22,007 children lost a secondary caregiver, defined by the researchers as someone who provides some but not most of a child’s needs and care. Taken as a whole then, roughly 1 in 500 U.S. children have so far lost a guardian to covid-19, the authors note.

“Children facing orphanhood as a result of COVID is a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States,” said lead author and CDC researcher Susan Hillis in a statement from the National Institutes of Health. The CDC also worked with researchers from the UK and South Africa on this 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 added.

Older people remain the most vulnerable to dying from covid-19, but the pandemic has proven to be deadly for many younger and midlife people in the U.S. as well. Over 20% of the pandemic’s official deaths (now over 700,000) have occurred among people under age 65, according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Beyond that, younger Black, Hispanic, and Native American people are more likely to die of covid-19 than their white counterparts, while their children are more likely to be living with grandparents than white children. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the disparities of the pandemic have trickled down to these orphaned children. Hillis and her team estimated that 65% of those who had lost a primary caregiver were the children of racial and ethnic minorities.

The findings come on the heels of a waning but still potent wave of the pandemic, which has killed many more Americans since the end of June when the study data stops. As of Thursday, it’s estimated that more Americans have died of covid-19 in 2021 so far than they did in all of 2020.