Study says 140,000 children lost a caregiver to COVID

A STUDY PUBLISHED by the American Academy of Pediatrics in the journal Pediatrics on Thursday quantifies yet another tragic outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic: orphanhood.

The study used modeling to estimate that, from April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, more than 120,000 children in the US under age 18 lost their parent or custodial grandparent to a COVID-associated death. Another 22,000 lost a “secondary caregiver,” such as a grandparent providing housing for the family.

Of those children who lost a caregiver to COVID, 65 percent were racial and ethnic minorities – even though minorities make up just 39 percent of the population. The researchers say this is symptomatic of broader inequities that have made Black and Latino individuals more likely to contract COVID.

Susan Hillis, lead author of the study, said in a press release put out by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that COVID-related orphanhood is “a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States.” “All of us – especially our children – will feel the serious immediate and long-term impact of this problem for generations to come,” Hillis said, adding that addressing this loss must be a top priority in the response to COVID.

The study puts into stark terms what has been evident throughout the pandemic. Children may not be falling ill from COVID with the same severity as adults (though a small number do get seriously ill), but they feel its collateral consequences.

Children have been facing mental health crises at unprecedented numbers, due to stress, isolation, and a lack of educational and social supports. CommonWealth reported that due to stresses on the health care system, many of these children cannot get timely treatment.

Students have lost a year of education to the struggles of remote learning, and plunging MCAS scores this year illustrate how much ground many kids need to make up.

Even as vaccinated adults began returning to more normal life, children under 12 have been ineligible for vaccines, meaning families have continued to face tough choices about what risks they want to take with their unvaccinated children.

There was some potential bright news Thursday, when Pfizer asked the US Food and Drug Administration to approve its COVID vaccine for children ages five to 11. The Boston Globe reported that a panel of experts will convene October 26 to consider the request, and US officials have said the shot could be available by Thanksgiving, if it is approved by the FDA and CDC.

Some have speculated that getting kids shots could be a key to ending the pandemic, since it will increase the chances of reaching herd immunity, while limiting the virus’s spread among a population that is indoors with other people all day, every day. Some suggest that vaccines for children along with the potential for a new pill that is awaiting regulatory approval to mitigate against severe COVID could be keys to a return to normalcy.

That said, there are questions about how many parents will vaccinate their children, especially since the virus tends to be less severe in kids. An August survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that fewer than half of parents are likely to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. And if the Delta strain has shown anything, it is that predictions of a vaccine-induced end to the pandemic may be premature. Experts now say the virus is likely to be endemic – always with us in some form – and the question will become how best to live with it.

As the sobering study on orphanhood reminds us, there are many children for whom the impact of COVID will never be completely over.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Targeting train whistles: Some may romanticize the sound of a train whistle, but for others the sound is a grating annoyance. Two Massachusetts communities, Chelsea and Needham, are taking steps to silence the frequent sound of horns from MBTA commuter rail trains. A 1994 federal law requires trains to sound their horn when approaching any grade-level crossing, but regulations also allow communities to establish “quiet zones” where the horns aren’t sounded if the crossings meet certain safety requirements. The T isn’t keen on the quiet zones, saying they compromise safety. Read more

New board for the T: A new MBTA board of directors is taking shape, as Gov. Charlie Baker announced five appointments to the seven-member board, which takes over from the Fiscal Management and Control Board, which was phased out at the end of June. Betsy Taylor, a transportation veteran who began working at Massport in the late 1970s and has most recently served in the state Department of Transportation, will chair the new board. Read more

OPINION

Neal should pump up solar: Sean Garren of the national advocacy group Vote Solar says Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, has a golden opportunity to boost renewable energy and aid low- and moderate-income residents by expanding homeowner tax credit eligibility for solar installation in a key must-pass budget bill now pending. Read more

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

BEACON HILL

A group of State Police troopers and commanders has hired a Boston law firm to try to fight off a looming mandate that all state employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 17 or risk sanctions, including termination. (Boston Herald

Lawmakers consider taking on another health hazard – the danger of stapled food bags. The sponsor of a bill to ban stapling take-out bags worries that staples could fall into a meal. (GBH)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Current Revere mayor Brian Arrigo has made his views clear. Now former mayor – and current city councilor Dan Rizzo – weighs in with an op-ed decrying the idea of bringing “Methadone Mile” to a Revere hotel. (Daily Item

With a rat population on the rise there, Watertown officials have suggested residents display plastic pumpkins outside for Halloween rather than real ones, which rats apparently enjoy eating. (Boston Herald

The Springfield City Council is demanding that the state raze the Roderick Ireland Courthouse, citing mold and health concerns. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts became the second large insurer to announce that it will not cover a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug made by Cambridge-based Biogen. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Senate approved a bill raising the debt ceiling and avoiding government default — for now. (New York Times

ELECTIONS

Advocates are urging a redrawing of state Senate district lines in the Merrimack Valley to give Latino-majority Lawrence more voting power. (Boston Globe

In the Boston mayoral race, Michelle Wu has raised four times as much money from out-of-state donors as Annissa Essaibi George. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A shortage of kitchen staff is hurting South Coast restaurants. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

Students at Anna Maria College in Paxton protest, saying the school is not doing enough to address reports of sexual violence on campus. (Telegram & Gazette)

A new analysis shows that Black and Latino enrollment at Boston’s exam schools will rise sharply, while the white student population will fall significantly, under the new admissions policy the city has adopted. (Boston Globe

Some pandemic-related changes to school may be here to stay permanently. (USA Today)

Massachusetts schools reported 1,918 COVID cases in students and 330 in staff in the last week. (MassLive)

A TikTok challenge urging students to “slap a teacher” is starting to happen in Massachusetts, leading to strict warnings against it from school officials. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Brockton police officer was shot four times by a suspect who apparently then killed himself. The officer is expected to survive. (Boston Globe

USA Today profiles six Massachusetts women who have gone missing in the last decade and still have not been found. 

MEDIA

Two journalists who have taken on the authoritarian governments in Russia and the Philippines have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (Washington Post

Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria is suing the Everett Leader Herald, accusing the paper of defamation in connection with articles he says falsely accused him of extorting payments from the city clerk. (Boston Herald

Bob Oakes retires from hosting WBUR’s Morning Edition. He will return to reporting. (WBUR)