One in four U.S. adults has experienced the death of a family member or close friend due to COVID-19, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Office of Community Health & Research.
The study, COVID-19 Death Exposure Among Adults in the United States, analyzed the responses of participants who self-reported the death of a loved one due to COVID-19. Other studies show that those who experienced loss due to COVID-19 have also suffered prolonged or complicated grief, and that those grieving the loss of a close relative or friend experience increased chances of physical health issues and higher rates of disability, medication use, hospitalization, and depressive symptoms.
“People who have suffered loss during the pandemic may still be suffering,” said Don E. Willis, PhD, an assistant professor in the Office of Community Health & Research. “The impact of the pandemic does not end at the point of death but ripples out across social networks. Even if the last COVID-19 death were to occur tomorrow, the staggering loss of life from the pandemic will likely be impacting the lives and health of the bereaved for many years to come.”
UAMS researchers also found that minority populations — particularly Black individuals — experienced greater risk of death due to COVID-19, as did people 60 or older, married couples or people who had forgone treatment due to health care costs.
“This study showed that there have been major racial disparities in exposure to the loss of close friends or family due to COVID-19,” Willis said. “This is critical for understanding how the pandemic may shape health disparities moving forward because unequal death exposure is a contributor to racial health disparities.”
There have been more than one million deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 12,700 Arkansans have died from the virus, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, which also reported that 72% of Arkansans who died of COVID-19 since February 2021 were not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved bivalent booster shots for both Pfizer and Moderna, which target new Omicron variants of the coronavirus. The Pfizer booster is authorized for ages five and up, and the Moderna booster is authorized for ages six and up.