More than 900 essential health workers in the U.S. died of COVID-19, according to information Tuesday from an interactive database created by The Guardian and the US health news service Kaiser Health News (KHN).
Lost on the Frontline, which according to its creators is the most complete count of the deaths of health workers in the United States, is the result of a partnership between the two newsrooms that aims to count, verify and honor every health worker in the United States, who died during the pandemic.
According to KHN, as coronavirus cases increase and there is a serious shortage of life-saving equipment, such as N95 masks, aprons and gloves, health workers in the country face life-threatening conditions again, especially in the southern and western states.
Through analyzing and comparing records and sources, peer reports, social media, online obituaries, worker unions and local media, the reporters of Lost on the Frontline identified 922 health workers who died of COVID-19 and its complications.
A team of more than 50 journalists from The Guardian, KHN and journalism schools spent months investigating individual deaths to see if they were due to COVID-19 and whether the dead were indeed working on the front lines of the battle, in direct contact with patients with the disease or working in places where they receive treatment.
Reporters have also investigated the circumstances of their deaths, including access to personal protective equipment (PPE), and have contacted family members, co-workers, union representatives and employers to comment on these deaths.
So far, 167 have been published with names, facts and life stories with colleagues or loved ones giving their opinions and remembering their lives. The names of the new victims are published each week and each death is confirmed individually before being published.
The count includes doctors, nurses and paramedics, as well as crucial support staff, such as hospital caretakers, administrators and nursing home workers.
Early counts also suggest that the majority of deaths occurred among people of color, many of them immigrants. But as this database is a work in progress, with new cases confirmed and added weekly, the first findings represent a fraction of the total reports and are not representative of all deaths of health professionals, warned KHN.
Of the 167 workers published in the database so far, the majority, 103 (62%), were identified as black. Most deaths, 103, occurred in April, after the initial increase in cases on the East Coast.
In fact, at least 68 lived in New York and New Jersey, two states hit hard at the start of the pandemic, followed by Illinois and California.
It was reported that at least 52 (31%) had inadequate protective equipment and the average age is 57 years old, although it varies from 20 to 80 years old, with 21 people (13%) under 40 years old.
About a third, at least 53, were born outside the United States and 25 were from the Philippines.
Likewise, although 38% (64) were nurses, the total also included doctors, pharmacists, rescuers and hospital technicians, among others.
According to KHN, poor preparation, government mistakes and an overburdened health system increase the risk. Inadequate access to exams, the scarcity of protective equipment across the country and resistance to social detachment and the use of masks forced more hospitalizations in already crowded hospitals and the death toll increased.
The federal government did not accurately record the deaths of health workers. On Sunday, August 9, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 587 deaths among that group, but the agency did not list specific names and admitted that this is an insufficient count.
Recent White House measures emphasize the need for public data and accountability. In July, the Trump administration instructed health facilities to send data on hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, ignoring the CDC.
In the days that followed, vital information about the pandemic disappeared from the public eye. The data was later restored after a public outcry, but the agency indicated that it can no longer update the numbers due to a change in federal reporting requirements.
E-mails obtained through a request for public records showed that federal and state authorities were aware at the end of February of the serious lack of protective equipment.
The report also examined the deaths of 19 health workers under the age of 30 who died of COVID-19.