The yearlong series of investigative reports found that many of these deaths could have been prevented. Widespread shortages of masks and other personal protective gear, a lack of Covid testing, weak contact tracing, inconsistent mask guidance by politicians, missteps by employers and lax enforcement of workplace safety rules by government regulators all contributed to the increased risk faced by health care workers. Studies show that health care workers were more than three times as likely to contract Covid as the general public. “We rightfully refer to these people without hyperbole — that they are true heroes and heroines,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci in an exclusive interview with The Guardian and KHN. The Covid deaths of so many are “a reflection of what health care workers have done historically, by putting themselves in harm’s way, by living up to the oath they take when they become physicians and nurses,” he said.Lost on the Frontline launched last April with the story of Frank Gabrin, the first known American emergency room doctor to die of Covid-19. In the early days of the pandemic, Gabrin, 60, was on the front lines of the surge, treating Covid patients in New York and New Jersey. Yet, like so many others, he was working without proper personal protective equipment, known as PPE. “Don’t have any PPE that has not been used,” he texted a friend. “No N95 masks — my own goggles — my own face shield.”
Gabrin’s untimely death was the first fatality entered into the Lost on the Frontline database. His story of working through a crisis to save lives shared similarities with the thousands that followed. Among its key findings on those fatalities for which detailed information was gathered:
More than 100 journalists contributed to the project in an effort to record every death and memorialize those who died. The project’s journalists filed public records requests, cross-connected governmental and private data sources, scoured obituaries and social media posts and confirmed deaths through family members, workplaces and colleagues. • More than half of those who have died were younger than 60. In the general population, the median age of death from Covid is 78. Yet among health care workers in the database, it is only 59.
Her hospital has placed 11 trees in the lobby, one for each employee who has died of Covid; they have been adorned with remembrances and gifts from their colleagues. Maritza Beniquez, an emergency room nurse at Newark’s University hospital in New Jersey, watched 11 colleagues die in the early months of the pandemic. Like the patients they had been treating, most were Black and Latino. “It literally decimated our staff,” she said.
• Nurses and support staff members died in far higher numbers than physicians. • More than a third of the health care workers who died were born outside the United States. Those from the Philippines accounted for a disproportionate number of deaths.
The death rate among health care workers has slowed dramatically since the vaccine was made available to them last December. A study published in late March found that only four of 8,121 fully vaccinated employees at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas became infected. But deaths lag behind infections, and KHN and The Guardian have tracked more than 400 health care worker deaths since the vaccine rollout began. Many factors contributed to the high toll — but investigative reporting uncovered some consistent problems that heightened the risks faced by health workers. • Twice as many workers died in nursing homes as hospitals. Only 30% of deaths were among hospital workers, and relatively few were employed by well-funded academic medical centers. The rest worked in less prestigious residential facilities, outpatient clinics, hospices and prisons, among other places.
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