When the covid-19 pandemic forced the United States into lockdown 19 months ago, the idea of 375,000 Americans dying by year’s end was hard to fathom. Harder, still, was the idea that the death toll would ramp back up again due to a highly contagious variant. Epidemiologists knew the costs, and tried to relay them to the public with varying levels of success, but now, with 700,000 dead, even the lifesaving covid-19 vaccine cannot reverse the impact of anti-mask measures, vaccine hesitancy, the power of conspiracy, and bad luck. And it’s a set of circumstances that hundreds of thousands of children will have to wrestle with for the rest of their lives.
CBS News reports that a study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that more than 140,000 children in the United States have lost primary caregivers from covid-19. The highest losses are in New York, Texas, and California, and “Adjusted for child population size, Arizona, New Mexico and the District of Columbia were among the hardest hit.”
Unsurprisingly, children of color have been disproportionately impacted.
From CBS News:
While more than half of COVID-associated deaths occurred among White people, nearly seven in 10 children facing the death of a caregiver as a result of these deaths were children of color. Two-thirds of kids in California who lost a primary caregiver were Hispanic. In New Mexico, the share of primary caregiver deaths that took place among American Indian and Native Alaskan kids was more than triple their share of the population. Across southern states, Black children made up a larger share of those with caregiver deaths than their share of the population.
Nationally, 1 out of every 168 American Indian and Native Alaskan children experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver, compared to 1 out of every 753 White children.
The estimates cover the US death toll from April 2020 to June 2021 and include both those who died from covid-19 and indirect covid-19 deaths. For example: a recovering opioid addict who dies of an overdose after her monthly detox shots were postponed and narcotics anonymous meetings were canceled. Or, a man who suffers chest pains, but dies after avoiding an overcrowded hospital full of covid patients for fear of contracting the virus. That’s what happened to Ed Kelly, a father of three from Georgia, back in January.
From CBS News, emphasis ours:
Ed Kelly’s family says the lack of available health care was a major factor in his death in January when he died of a heart attack just eight hours after going to an urgent care clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, with chest pain. His widow Sunni says he chose to not go to the hospital even though clinic staffers recommended it, fearing he could contract COVID-19. His sudden death has left a gaping hole in the life of Sunni and her three daughters, including 16-year-old Kate who says she’s struggled to talk about the pain she’s felt and is angry over what she’s had to cope with.
“I’ve just been so mad that I lost my dad now,” she said. “That’s the main thing that I’ve been feeling through all of this, is just anger.”
To say these children have been failed—white and Black, from the north and from the south—is an understatement. They were failed by local governments who hesitated to take action, elected officials and talking heads who turned a deadly pandemic into partisan politics, and even neighbors and community members who valued the specter of choice and freedom over the lives of those around them. They got an early look into what it means to fend for yourself in a nation where care is conditional and selfishness is confused with patriotism.