According to a study published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics journal on Monday, an estimated 37,300 to 43,000 U.S. children experienced the loss of at least one parent due to COVID-19 in the past year.
A closer look at the data found that the burden, which authors of the study acknowledge will likely “grow heavier” amid the ongoing pandemic, has landed disproportionately on Black children.
Black children make up just 14 percent of those under 18 in the U.S., but the study estimated they account for 20 percent of the children who have lost a parent to the coronavirus.
The authors said they were able to “track parental bereavement as the pandemic evolves” by estimating the expected number of affected children for each COVID-19 death.
“We used kinship networks of white and Black individuals in the US estimated through demographic microsimulation to calculate the bereavement multiplier, then used the multiplier to estimate the scope of parental bereavement under various mortality scenarios,” they wrote.
The authors said the estimates rely on demographic modeling and do not “include bereavement of nonparental primary caregivers.” They added the study also relies on “deidentified, publicly available data” and is not “considered human subjects research.”
Their research model, they wrote, “suggests that each COVID-19 death leaves 0.078 children aged 0 to 17 parentally bereaved,” which they noted represents a 17.5 percent to 20.2 percent “increase in parental bereavement absent COVID-19.”
The authors called the estimated number of children to have lost a parent to the coronavirus “staggering,” saying “sweeping national reforms are needed to address the health, educational, and economic fallout affecting children.”
“Sudden parental death, such as that occurring owing to COVID-19, can be particularly traumatizing for children and leave families ill prepared to navigate its consequences,” they wrote.
“Moreover, COVID-19 losses are occurring at a time of social isolation, institutional strain, and economic hardship, potentially leaving bereaved children without the supports they need,” they added.
The U.S. has seen nearly 31 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 555,000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University data.