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The number of U.S. deaths from covid-19 has surpassed 778,000. Left behind are tens of thousands of children — some orphaned — after their parents or a grandparent who cared for them died. In this report, co-produced with PBS NewsHour, KHN correspondent Sarah Varney looks at the risks these grieving children face to their well-being, both in the short and long term. No concerted government effort exists to help the estimated 140,000 children who have lost a parent — or even to identify them.

Betty Hamilton of Eastman, Georgia, took in her five grandsons, ages 4 to 10, after their father died suddenly of covid in August. They had already lost their mom in a car crash years ago. With no financial help from the government, except food stamps and Medicaid, she struggles to provide the basics: keeping them fed and clothed as they grow.

But for these kids and countless others, the unaddressed emotional needs seem the greatest risk. Stressful events can be “biologically embedded,” says one expert, and their unresolved grief and depression can haunt them for life, leaving them economically disadvantaged.

Sarah Varney: [email protected], @SarahVarney4