Thousands of children are now living without their primary caregiver after coronavirus took the lives of their parents. The pandemic is especially affecting Black and Hispanic children, who make up a large portion of the 167,000 kids who have lost their parents during the pandemic, People reports. The data also shows that 70% of the children without parents are 13 years old or younger.

"Tragically, kids do lose their parents. But with COVID, there are layers and layer of complexity that makes things different," Charles Nelson, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, told People. "How do we track the number of orphans left as a result of COVID? Whose responsibility is it to step up and take care of those kids — family members, the community, the state or federal government?" 

In Boynton Beach, Florida, 24-year-old Jenny Burrows is taking care of her three younger siblings after their single mom, Cindy Dawkins, died from COVID-19 at age 50, according to People. Burrows was relieved when a judge recently approved her petition of legal guardianship for her younger siblings.

The oldest sibling is now sharing an apartment with her 15-year-old and 12-year-old sisters, as well as her 20-year-old brother.

"Knowing we aren't going to be separated — it's a huge weight off my shoulders," Burrows said. "Mom used to say she didn't care if we lived in one bedroom, as long as we were together." 

While Burrows is working as a dental assistant, her brother Tre is working in telemarketing to help the family. The siblings are also getting assistance from Janine Yoshida, the mother of one of Tre's high school friends. Yoshida has offered to pay their rent until their apartment lease expires. In addition, she has set up a GoFundMe page to help the family raise money for a down payment on a house or condo. 

"I didn't want them worrying about anything, except what they were trying to get through," Yoshida said. 

In Oklahoma, an 18-year-old student-athlete named Avion Simon is helping his grandmother as she takes care of his 8-year-old and 6-year-old siblings, People reports. The children's mother, Shanna Twyman, died from COVID-19 at age 41. Two years earlier, the kids' father, Cletis Shelby, died of liver failure. 

Simon has been playing football and focusing on school while holding a part-time job.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of 500 children in the U.S. has lost a parent or grandparent caregiver due to COVID-19. The CDC added that children of racial and ethnic minorities account for 65% of those who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic.

“Children facing orphanhood as a result of COVID is a hidden, global pandemic that has sadly not spared the United States,” Susan Hillis, a CDC researcher, said. “All of us — especially our children — will feel the serious immediate and long-term impact of this problem for generations to come. Addressing the loss that these children have experienced — and continue to experience — must be one of our top priorities, and it must be woven into all aspects of our emergency response, both now and in the post-pandemic future.”