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May 28, 2022

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In Our View: COVID has hit children of Washington, U.S. hard

The Columbian
Published:

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on American children. And while the effects on social development and academic progress will take years — or generations — to assess, the virus also has taken an immediate toll.

An upcoming peer-reviewed study from the American Academy of Pediatrics calculates that more than 140,000 children in the United States have lost a parent or grandparent to coronavirus. In Washington, the estimate is that more than 1,400 children have suffered such a loss.

Notably, the numbers measure the time from April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021 — prior to the surge of the delta variant that drove up the mortality rate.

With about 750,000 deaths attributed to the virus in the United States — including more than 8,600 in Washington and nearly 500 in Clark County — it is predictable that many children would directly feel the weight of COVID. That weight should not be underestimated.

“COVID is real, and its impact on families is real,” Dr. Michael Barsotti, president of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review. “As members of the family pass away because of COVID, be it your grandmother or mother, there’s an impact to the child.”

More than a century ago, when a global outbreak of Spanish influenza led to an estimated 650,000 deaths in the United States, a children’s rhyme developed as youngsters tried to process and cope with the devastation around them: “I had a little bird, its name was Enza. I opened the window, and in flew Enza!”

Those were simpler times. Now, children are exposed to daily reports of COVID’s toll through traditional media and social media. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry provides a tip sheet for helping children cope with concerns. The first three suggestions:

  • Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions. At the same time, it’s best not to force children to talk about things unless and until they’re ready.
  • Answer questions honestly. Children will usually know, or eventually find out, if you’re “making things up.”
  • Use words and concepts children can understand. Gear your explanations to the child’s age, language, and developmental level.

The honest answers are that COVID-19 is dangerous, but most people recover. Meanwhile, vaccinations have been proven safe and effective in avoiding the disease or at least reducing the symptoms.

The study from the American Academy of Pediatrics also highlights how the pandemic has had a disparate impact on communities of color: “Children of racial and ethnic minorities account for 65 percent of children losing primary caregivers, compared to 39 percent of the total population.”

Washington does not keep data that can confirm how many children in our state have lost a caregiver or a close relative. But whether or not they are directly touched by the disease, children have been impacted by it.

That can lead to concerns among youngsters. For many children, coronavirus is only an ethereal concept; for others, it has directly affected their families. As one child behavioral expert told Forbes.com: “The routines of families were disrupted, there was added stress in many homes … not to mention the abundance of fear.”

Through no fault of their own, America’s children have been impacted by COVID-19.

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