About one in every 215 children in Georgia have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. That’s nearly 12,000 people under the age of 18 whose parent or grandparent, that lived with them and provided support for them, died, according to data shared by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

In addition to the profound grief, having a caregiver die suddenly is an adverse childhood experience or ACE, which is associated with poor mental health and suicidal behaviors.

ACEs are preventable, potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (ages 0 to 17 years) such as neglect, experiencing or witnessing violence, or having a family member attempt or die by suicide.

Associations between ACEs occurring during the pandemic and mental health or suicidal behaviors among U.S. high school students were examined using Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey data. Experience of one to two ACEs was associated with poorer mental health and increased suicidal behaviors, and these deleterious outcomes increased with additional ACE exposure.

The prevalence of poor current mental health and past-year suicide attempts among adolescents reporting four or more ACEs during the COVID-19 pandemic were four and 25 times as high as those without ACEs, respectively.

GBPI Senior Health Policy Analyst Leah Chan said creating a children’s COVID-19 survivor fund could help counteract the effect on household financial stability.

“So it’s the idea that you can create a fund using existing American Rescue Plan dollars or, you know, this huge state surplus that we have, to provide support for children who’ve lost a primary caregiver,” Chan said.

The fund would be similar to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Other impacts of caregiver deaths include a widening of disparities between people of color when it comes to accessing good health care.  

“Due to longstanding structural inequities like occupational segregation and labor exploitation, Black workers faced increased exposure to COVID-19 as frontline workers,” Chan said, “and also had barriers to accessing the health care they needed to then prevent and treat COVID-19 infection.”

In Georgia, Black children make up about about 34% of the child population, but they account for 45% of the children who lost a primary or secondary caregiver to COVID, Chan said.

“So one in 160 Black children in Georgia have experienced this loss,” she said.

“In thinking about the populations that will be disproportionately impacted by the long-term health impacts of COVID, it is Georgians of color with lower incomes,” Chan said. “It’s also Georgians living with disabilities, and it’s rural Georgians.”

The organization also suggests creating a study committee to better understand and develop a plan for addressing the long-term health effects of COVID.

According to a self-report survey from late July to early August 2022, about one in five of the Georgians who have had COVID reported currently having long COVID symptoms. Applying the results of this survey, an estimated 715,276 of all adult Georgians are currently experiencing long COVID.

Georgia-specific demographic data are not available, GBPI said. However, national estimates indicate that women, Hispanic adults and working age people were more likely to report experiencing long COVID symptoms.

This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Ellen Eldridge/GPB

Ellen Eldridge is a reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting.