Caregiver Casualties from Covid-19

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, AARP statistics indicated that 1.6 million children between the ages of 8 and 18 were responsible for providing care to elderly relatives.  I have, on numerous occasions, expressed my disappointment that so many children are being robbed of their childhood.  They must go home after school to care for an elderly relative rather than participate in after-school activities or hang out with their friends.

During the first week of October 2021, new statistics were published in the journal Pediatrics reporting new findings from a different perspective.  According to the article, 1 in every 515 kids has lost a caregiver to Covid-19.  That number is staggering.  Consider the fact that more than 700,000 people have lost their lives from Covid-19.  The number of children who have been orphaned by this disease is difficult to comprehend.  Considering the number of unvaccinated adults and children, this number will continue to rise.  Is the argument of the unvaccinated Freedom of Choice demand worth risking the possibility that your child could become an orphan?  I wouldn’t think so…but I am vaccinated.

My book, One Caregiver’s Journey, focuses exclusively on my 9 ½ year journey caregiving for my mother.  Since her death in 2017, I have become a student of the ever-changing face and effects of caregiving in the US.  The pandemic gave new meaning to caregiving as families were faced with many decisions related to the health and wellbeing of elderly relatives.  In addition to jobs, food, and housing, families had to provide care to children and elderly relatives simultaneously.  The burden of caring for a multi-generational family and keeping them safe from Covid is huge.  There are groups of millennials on Instagram daily seeking advice for caregiving.  The age deemed “prime of their lives” has been disrupted to care for another family member.  They crave social interaction, they crave balance, and they struggle to understand the necessity to give up so much to care for another human being.  Caregiving is no longer about middle-aged spouses or children nearing retirement caring for sick or elderly loved ones.  Today, caregiving applies to all ages. 

I had not given thought to the collateral damage to children when parents die during a pandemic.   The reality of the sobering statistic is that Covid-19 has exempted no one from the fallout.  The study published in the journal Pediatrics estimates that 142,637 children lost a primary or secondary caregiver.  The reports account for deaths of those who contracted Covid and those who died as an indirect result of the virus; for example, they lacked access to health care.  While nearly half of the Covid-associated deaths were among white people, nearly 7 in 10 children losing a caregiver were children of color.  1 in 168 Black, Hispanic, Indian, and native Alaskan children experienced the death of a caregiver compared to 1 in 753 white children.  Dr. Susan Hillis refers to this statistic as a “hidden pandemic.”  It is hoped that by highlighting these statistics, government agencies will turn their attention to try to save those who are too small to be seen in the bigger picture.  The focus has been on the number of people dying and little attention to who is left behind.

When I was a caregiver, I did not have time to become depressed as the ever-changing and challenging duties of caregiving give rise to the need at hand.  It is a known fact that many people being cared for often suffer depression.  During the pandemic, depression has been a primary source of concern for the general population.  Depression rates have tripled during the pandemic.  In my blogs, I have routinely suggested we limit the amount of news or cable television we watch.  The country has become polarized, and the divisiveness, hatred, and misinformation that bombards us daily from multiple sources will cause depression in any one of us.  Our lives have changed regardless of whether you refuse to wear a mask or get vaccinated and follow the rules like a good soldier.  While we would like to think we have moved on from Covid-19, a record number of people have ceased employment for fear of contracting the Delta variant.  Yet others are lining up at food banks or living on the streets because they lack resources to pay for housing.  This results in people falling further into despair. 

We are at a critical point in our country’s history.  The pandemic should make us wake up and recognize what is important for our survival.  How many more children must become orphans?  How many more young people in the prime of their lives must assume responsibility to care for elder relatives?  How many more newscasts will be dedicated to Covid and not about Americans living a normal life?  Now is the time to realize the residual fallout of the pandemic is our children.

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