More than 1,700 U.S. healthcare workers have died from COVID-19, nurses' union says

More than 1,700 healthcare workers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to a new report (PDF) from one of the largest nurses' unions in the country. 

According to the report from National Nurses United (NNU), that figure includes more than 200 nurses. Of the nurses who have died, a disproportionate number (60%) were people of color compared to the approximately one-quarter of registered nurses in the U.S. who are people of color, the report said. 

The data demonstrate the government's lack of reporting requirements and ability to track healthcare worker deaths—as well as failures by health systems to provide adequate protection for front-line workers, NNU officials said.

“These deaths were avoidable and unnecessary due to government and employer willful inaction," said Zenei Cortez, R.N., a president of NNU, 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. Our state and federal governments must require hospitals and other health care employers to publicly report infection rates and deaths of their workers. We have the right to a safe workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Information is a part of safety. But some employers are not telling nurses when they have been exposed or who has been infected. This is irresponsible and dangerous for nurses, health care workers, and patients.”

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According to NNU, only 15 states provide infection numbers for all healthcare workers on at least a weekly basis. In May, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began requiring nursing homes to provide COVID-19-related healthcare worker infection and mortality data, which are publicly available. But there is not such requirement for the hospital industry, they said.

NNU officials said they have been tracking and confirmed the deaths of U.S. registered nurses and the other healthcare workers since there was no other place to find these data.

Elsewhere, journalists from The Guardian and KHN, which have also been compiling a database, have counted at least 1,200 healthcare workers in the U.S. who've died from COVID-19 they contracted on the job. Those data were compiled through crowdsourcing and reports from colleagues, social media, online obituaries, workers unions and local media, they said.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International released an analysis estimating at least 7,000 health workers have died around the world after contracting COVID-19, with more than 1,300 of them in Mexico. Amnesty International recorded nearly 1,000 deaths of healthcare workers in the U.S.

NNU points to data keeping that shifted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as one of the reasons for lack of transparency into the deaths. Critics have previously criticized the Trump administration's move to abruptly change how hospitals report COVID-19 data, saying it jeopardizes public trust and hampers the industry's ability to respond to the pandemic.

“The United States needs transparent, accurate, and timely publicly reported data on Covid-19 immediately,” said Deborah Burger, R.N., a president of NNU, in a statement. “Nurses call on the Trump administration to restore hospital Covid-19 data reporting to the CDC immediately. The CDC must then strengthen, improve, and expand its data tracking.”

We've reached out to both the CDC and HHS for comment.