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Each COVID-19 fatality leaves approximately nine bereaved relatives, study finds

A study has explored how much families are affected by the virus

Photo (c) Tomas Ragina - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Penn State explored the ripple effect that’s created following the death of a loved one from COVID-19

According to their findings, approximately nine family members are left to grieve the loss of a close relative due to the coronavirus. On a national scale, if the virus takes 190,000 lives, nearly two million Americans would be grieving lost relatives. 

“It’s very helpful to have a sense of the potential impacts that the pandemic could have,” said researcher Ashton Verdery. “And, for employers, it calls attention to policies around family leave and paid leave. At the federal level, it might inform officials about possible extensions for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). There could also be some implications for caretaking. For example, a lot of children grow up in grandparent-led houses and they would be impacted.” 

The bereavement multiplier

The researchers created what is known as the “bereavement multiplier” to better understand the far-reaching effects of COVID-19-related deaths on surviving family members. They used current census data to evaluate kinship networks, which include grandparents, parents, children, siblings, and spouses. 

Though this study is based off of previous ones that sought to discover similar results, the researchers believe that their bereavement factor is the most precise way to understand how the virus is spreading and how families are being affected. 

“The big challenge with the former work was that we used a certain percentage of infections and a certain percentage of deaths,” Verdery said. “In that model, there is an inherent prediction that if so many people are infected, there would be a certain number of people who would die and, then, the model estimated how many people will be affected by those deaths. But, thinking through this, we wanted to create a statistic that is easy to understand and one that doesn’t rely on specific predictions about death counts.” 

Ultimately, the researchers determined that the bereavement multiplier hovers around nine. This means that approximately nine close family members are left to grieve the death of a loved one because of COVID. The team hopes that these findings provide insight into specific regions that could be hit particularly hard by the virus so that consumers can understand the wide-reaching effects of these deaths. 

“Our statistics are based on national averages, so it might not translate perfectly, but you could imagine that this could serve as a baseline level to go forward and understand the differences between areas where the outbreaks are severe and places where the outbreaks may not be so severe,” said Verdery. “There are regional differences in some of these kinship statistics that would make it less than perfect, but it would be a reasonable first approximation.” 

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