COVID-19 Has Killed More Than 1700 Healthcare Workers: Report

Marcia Frellick

September 29, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

More than 1700 healthcare workers have died from COVID-19, according to a national nurses union, whose report blames governmental failures for the number of deaths.

The report, Sins of Omission, blames the government's "failure to track COVID-19 data" regarding the extent of the mortality. It was written by National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union in the United States for registered nurses, with 150,000 members.

Of the 1718 deaths, the union found that 213 were of registered nurses.

"These deaths were avoidable and unnecessary due to government and employer willful inaction," Zenei Cortez, RN, a co-president of NNU, said in a statement. "Nurses and health care workers were forced to work without personal protective equipment they needed to do their job safely. It is immoral and unconscionable that they lost their lives."

The report includes a list of the names of the 213 registered nurses who were known to have died of COVID-19 as of September 16, as well as the names of 617 additional healthcare workers.

The authors point out that federal entities provide different numbers for the deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as of September 15, 690 healthcare workers had died. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services indicates that 843 deaths had occurred among nursing home workers as of August 30.

The authors say that, if anything, their number underestimates the crisis: "While this figure for all health care workers is higher than has been reported elsewhere, NNU believes it is a conservative estimate. These cases have been documented by NNU using media reports, social media, obituaries, union memorials, federal and state reporting, and NNU internal reporting."

The nurses' data show a disproportionate toll on nurses of color in the United States. Only 24.1% of registered nurses here are people of color, but 124, or 58.2%, of the RNs who have died of COVID-19 and related complications are nurses of color.

New York lost the most healthcare workers to COVID-19 (310), followed by New Jersey (193) and California (167).

"These deaths frequently have been met with silence or outright denials," the report states. "If hospitals are not widely required to publicly disclose their deaths and infection rates, they lack important incentives not to become zones of infection."

The nurses state in a news release that only 15 states provide infection numbers for all healthcare workers daily, semiweekly, or weekly.

The union also explains that the CDC has required data on COVID-19 infections and deaths from nursing homes, and those data are publicly available; however, the collection and reporting of information have not been required of hospitals.

The group calls for the following changes at the national, state, and local levels surrounding COVID-19:

  • Daily reporting of data and cumulative totals on diagnostic testing and case counts

  • Daily reporting and cumulative totals of data on healthcare worker infections and deaths at specific hospitals or businesses

  • Daily reporting of data on all hospitalizations and deaths

  • Real-time reporting of hospital capacity and supplies of personal protective equipment

The CDC and the HHS had not responded to Medscape's request for comment by publication.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune and and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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