More than 900 hospital workers in the front line have died of Covid-19, according to an interactive database presented today by the Guardian and KHN. Lost on the Frontline is a partnership between the two newsrooms that aims to count, verify and commemorate every American healthcare worker who dies during the pandemic.
It is the most comprehensive account of the deaths of American health care workers in the country.
As the coronavirus case grows ̵
Through crowdsourcing and reports from colleagues, social media, online obituaries, labor unions and local media, Lost on the Frontline reporters have identified 922 healthcare professionals who reportedly died of Covid-19.
A team of more than 50 journalists from the Guardian, KHN and journalism schools have spent months investigating individual deaths to ensure that they died from Covid-19, and that they actually worked in the front line in contact with Covid patients or working in places where they were treated. Reporters have also investigated the circumstances surrounding their deaths, including their access to the PPE, and tracked down family members, employees, union representatives and employers to comment on their deaths.
To date, we have independently confirmed 167 deaths and published their names, data and stories about their lives and how they will be remembered. We continue to confirm additional victims and publish new names every week.
The conversation includes doctors, nurses and medical staff, as well as crucial support staff such as nurses, administrators and nursing home workers, who put their own lives under the pandemic to take care of others.
Early data indicate that dozens have died who could not access adequate personal protective equipment, and at least 35 have died after federal officials received safety complaints about their workplaces. Early figures also suggest that the majority of deaths were among people of color and many were immigrants. However, as this database is an ongoing work, the early results represent a fraction of the total reports and are not representative of all deaths in healthcare workers.
Of the 167 workers that have been added to Lost on the Frontline database so far:
A majority – 103 (62%) – were identified as people of color.
At least 52 (31%) were reported to have inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
The median age was 57 and the ages ranged from 20 to 80, with 21 people (12%) under 40 years.
About one-third – at least 53 – were born outside the United States and 25 from the Philippines.
The majority of deaths, 103, were in April, after the first plant on the east coast.
About 38% – 64 – were nurses, but the total also includes doctors, pharmacists, first responders and hospital technicians, among others
At least 68 people lived in New York and New Jersey, two states hard hit in the beginning of the pandemic, with Illinois and California following.
Some of these deaths were preventable. Poor preparation, mistakes by the government and an overloaded healthcare system increased the risk. Insufficient access to tests, a nationwide shortage of protective equipment and resistance to social distancing and masking have forced more patients into overcrowded hospitals and pushed up deaths.
Deficiencies in government data have increased the need for independent tracking. The federal government has failed to accurately calculate fatalities in health care workers. As of August 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 592 deaths among health care professionals – but the organization does not list specific names and has admitted that this is a minority.
New features from the White House underline the need for public information and accountability. In July, the Trump administration ordered health care facilities to send data on hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, past the CDC. In the following days, vital information about the pandemic disappeared from the public eye. (Data was later restored following a public outcry, but the agency indicated it may no longer update the figures due to a change in federal reporting requirements.)
Lost on the Frontline reporters have compiled hundreds of potential cases through crowddsourcing and reports from colleagues, social media, online obituaries, labor unions and local media. They independently confirm each death before publishing names, data and obituaries.
Exclusive reports from reporters have revealed that many healthcare professionals use surgical masks that are much less effective than N-95 masks and have put them at risk. Emails received via a public request showed that federal and government officials were aware at the end of February of a serious shortage of PPEs.
Further investigations showed that healthcare workers who contracted the coronavirus and their families are now struggling to access deaths and other benefits in workers’ compensation systems. Our reporting has also examined the deaths of 19 healthcare professionals under the age of 30 who died from Covid-19.
Melissa Bailey and Christina Jewett contributed to this story.