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Last Sunday around 3am on Sunday, Christina Summers received a phone call that she will never forget. This is a doctor at a Baltimore hospital where her husband James was admitted for COVID-19 a week ago. She was having trouble breathing. Now, they were telling him that James was being put on a ventilator.
He picked up the phone and turned to the people who had been there most of his life: James’ family. “I called her siblings immediately in the middle of the night and I said, ‘You all have to come here immediately. I’m scared, I’m scared.’
One of her brothers-in-law had just arrived when the doctor returned with the news: James is dead, leaving Christina, who was 36 at the time, to raise their nine children on her own. “My husband and I really worked as a team,” she says. “My teammates aren’t here to help me, so I’m really feeling like a single mom, just trying to get used to it.”
With his death at the age of 37, James Summers, a black man, became part of a devastating demographic of the epidemic: in the United States, people of color are less likely to die in Covid than whites – and the low-income community has been hit the hardest. The age-consistent COVID mortality rate among black and Latino communities is almost double that of whites and Asians, and this reflects the fact that this population is dying at a young age, the researchers say. This is even worse for Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific islanders, although less data is available for that population.
Although the gap between whites and blacks narrowed in 2021, it was mainly because more middle-aged whites died in 2021, instead of things getting dramatically better for blacks and Latinos, according to a preprint study by researchers at Princeton University and the University of Southern California.
Many of these deaths have occurred in human life. The United States has reached a horrific milestone of 1 million deaths from cobwebs, the nation has yet to count the effects of these losses, said Debra Fur-Holden, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University who is studying the diverse effects of the epidemic.
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“The impact of COVID has been profound on families, especially those already on the brink. I think we’ve focused on that. We haven’t thought about the long-term effects,” he said.
The reasons are manifold, though all of them are systemic racism, says Fur-Holden. “COVID was robbed. Covid told us the truth about what was happening to us,” he says.
People of color represent more in low-wage frontline jobs that increase their exposure, Fur-Holden notes; They face unequal access to healthcare and have more underlying conditions that make them more risky in the beginning. These are all ongoing causes that increase the risk of infection and death. The U.S. black and Latino populations are younger than the whites, a factor that helps explain the high mortality rate at a young age, said Naren Goldman, a Princeton University demographer who studied life expectancy as a result of COVID.
Living with loss
Christina Summers is living those effects every day. She says her husband, James, was a big man – 6 feet tall and over 300 pounds – and her appearance was big.
“You know, he was very uplifting, always, trying to push through our struggles and keep my head up.”
James was an optimist and a humorist. He wore his wig and walked around the house, telling funny jokes and making tick videos. “He just brought a lot of joy to my home,” he said, adding that he always puts family first “She was always there for her kids, you know, for every graduation, every birthday, every holiday.”
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Her children, 5 sons and 4 daughters – ages 6 to 17 – were all close to their father Now, he says, they are all fighting his loss. Several of her middle-school-aged children are afraid to go back to school, fearing they will catch Kovid – a higher warning that experts say is common among children who have lost a parent. Her 16-year-old son Matthew has been recalled. Her 6-year-old daughter, Madison, thinks her father will return.
“I have to sit there and tell my daughter, you know, she’s not coming back, unfortunately. So it’s really hard for me to keep trying to get through this,” she says.
And there’s a lot to push through. James was the main earner of the family. Christina lived at home with the children. He said the finances were always tight, but somehow they were able to. Now that James is gone, the family survives by saving, and the benefit of disability goes to his 15-year-old son, Marcus. She has autism. Christina did not drive, and the family car was recovered.
“It’s really hard because you know? There’s hardly any income at the moment and I’m trying to put things together to start my life again. It’s hard,” Summers said.
Even families that were on a strong economic footing have suffered financial losses. And because of this, their whole life can also grow.
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“I know a lot of families who have had to move because they can’t afford to rent, have to move with family, have to live in transitional housing, be it a hotel room or a car … because they have lost an earner and the sudden death of a young breadwinner in the family. They had no plans for the epidemic, “said Christine Urquiza, co-founder of Marked by Covid, an advocacy and awareness group that seeks to humanitarianize the damage. Called.
Urquiza started the company in 2020 after her own father died in Kovid at the age of 65. He was a first-generation Mexican American and worked in a blue-collar job all his life.
“He still hasn’t had a chance to retire,” Urquiza said. “That whole chapter of his life, he just started to see the light at the end of the tunnel and it was completely stolen from him.”
Since the death of her father, she has taken on financial responsibility for her widowed mother. He has also survived his savings since losing his job as an environmental justice lawyer with a non-profit organization during the epidemic. Due to the stress of the last two years, one day the goals of having a home of his own are starting to feel unattainable.
“I feel like none of the dreams I’ve had for myself have come true,” she says. “It’s like the hits aren’t stopping.”
The effect is a cascade
And hits aren’t just financial. The grief of losing a loved one can have a profound effect on mental health, says Debra Amberson, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the effects of racial discrimination and loss.
“For example, if you develop a lot of anxiety or depression, you can carry it with you for more years of your life, which has a detrimental effect on your health,” he says.
And it can have long-term effects on physical health, affecting cardiovascular health, risk of death and dementia risk, Amberson said. “It’s written on it.”
And for children, losing a parent early in life can have serious educational implications. Studies show that they are less likely to drop out of high school, less likely to go to college and less likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree if it were planned, says Ashton Verdery, a Penn State sociologist and demographer who studies the effects of parental harm on children. Has done 8 He says the evidence is really strong that losing a parent is “extremely detrimental to a child’s educational path.” And this in turn affects a child’s chances of getting a job and earning money in later life.
“And of course, socioeconomic status is linked to health outcomes. So it’s a cascade of effects,” Amberson said.
Amberson points to Verdari’s research, which suggests that nine family members were left for each person killed by the covid. He says so many unexpected COVID deaths at a young age in the color community are bound to exacerbate existing disparities in health and resources. “So it’s this huge impact, it’s this ballooning effect, because for every person who dies, more than one person is affected,” he says.
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For Christina Summers, the battle is only to get herself and her nine children through every day. “It was very difficult because we are all still mourning,” Summers said.
She’s trying to find grief counseling for the kids, but so far, no luck. The demand for therapy may be several months longer as demand has been so high since the epidemic. She was also busy navigating the bureaucracy – trying to secure social security survivor benefits and other resources for her children, even though her spouse and best friend never came home.
“Every day I look for him at the door, you know? ‘Because sometimes I think he’s still going through the door. How Kovid takes them out is very real.”