Emilia Guerra took her first steps on Thanksgiving of 2020 as parents Laura and Rigo Guerra watched proudly. It seemed like the start of many holiday memories for the young family.
A month later, it was Christmas Eve and Rigo, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was in the hospital with COVID-19. He was dying. His daughter would never have her father at a holiday gathering again.
As the United States prepares to mark the grim milestone of one million dead from COVID-19, a close inspection of the data reveals one of the pandemic’s most heartwrenching tolls: At least 32,500 children in California and more than 214,400 nationwide — more than one out of every 360 — have lost at least one parent or primary caregiver to the virus, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania. At least 16,800 lost their sole parent or caregiver.
“COVID orphans” is the term used to describe these children, whether they lost one caregiver or two. More than 70% are 13 or younger.
The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on lower-income and minority communities is reflected among COVID orphans, said Daniel Treglia, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and co-authored “Hidden Pain,” a report about the phenomenon.