COVID is killing health care workers. Where’s the outrage? Why don’t we try to stop this?

In the United States, we value the lives of those who protect us. According to the FBI, 89 law enforcement officers died in line-of-duty incidents last year. Each of those deaths is a tragedy, often marked by funeral processions of hundreds of squad cars from around the country. We mourn those deaths because we know the officers died protecting us. Perhaps that’s one reason we see so many “Defend the Police” yard signs.

What would the country do if more than 1,000 police officers — more than a tenfold increase — died in a single year? There would be outcries from the White House and both sides of the political aisle. We’d see House and Senate hearings to identify who was at fault, what was wrong and how to safeguard our police. Those hearings would culminate in a bill to provide new funding and equipment to protect our law enforcement officers. The bill proudly would be signed in an Oval Office ceremony amid great fanfare.

Yet during COVID-19, we’re seeing a group of public servants dying in the line of duty with comparatively little fanfare. As of last week, 1,336 health care worker deaths from COVID-19 exposure on the job have been reported to an investigative database. Another study using more inclusive criteria puts the total at hundreds more.

Recipe for disaster, lost lives

The victims range from food service workers to nurses to specialist physicians. Health care worker deaths are not tracked as systematically as law enforcement deaths, but a 2002 study found that 80-260 health care workers die annually of work-related infections. If correct, that suggests COVID-19 has caused about a tenfold increase in those deaths — the same increase that would provoke political outrage if it struck police officers. Yet after the initial flurry of “support our heroes” signs early in the pandemic, health care worker deaths have drawn comparatively little attention.

The obvious question, the one the Trump administration should be asking, is why this is occurring. Several factors contribute, but the most important is that the more COVID-19 cases occur, the more COVID-19 patients require health care, especially those most ill. The more patients are receiving health care, the more health care workers are exposed. And the more health care workers are exposed, the more likely that some of them will acquire on-the-job infections.

National COVID-19 Remembrance on Oct. 4, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
National COVID-19 Remembrance on Oct. 4, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

The answer to the question “Why have so many health care workers died in the U.S.?” is simple: “Because our national leaders have so mismanaged the outbreak.” When you have an administration that degrades its own public health scientists, denies the value of masks and social distancing that has been so effective around the world, and misleads the public as to the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s a recipe for disaster that has claimed over 1,300 people who committed themselves to our health.

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America’s own Government Accountability Office

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The Economy Can’t Recover With Sick Workers

Even mild cases of COVID-19 have affected workers’ ability to do their jobs and enjoy their lives, sometimes causing miserable knock-on effects on their finances. Benjamin Walmer is a New Jersey chef and architect specializing in kitchen and restaurant design, who contracted a minor case of COVID-19 in March. “I’ve had colds that had worse symptoms,” he told me. Nevertheless, he said, the illness affected his ability to hold meetings, visit people’s homes and businesses, and find new clients. “Relationships are everything in this industry, and there’s a great deal of intimacy around design,” he said. “There were these multiple points of disruption that compounded one another.”

More severe cases have had more severe effects, for workers and the companies that employ them. Yvonne Evans has been a nurse for three decades, and runs a surgical clinic at the John D. Dingell Veterans Administration Medical Center in Detroit. She contracted a severe case of COVID-19 in the spring and is a long-hauler: She still has fatigue and shortness of breath half a year later. “I know what is happening to me; that’s the scary part,” she told me. “I know vasoconstriction when I see it.”

She now uses a mobility scooter to get around the hospital, and struggles to work as she used to. She said she was contemplating retiring early, although that would be a significant financial hit to her family. “Do I need to go on disability? I don’t know,” she said. “I’m trying to see how much damage it has done to my lungs, because the lungs do regenerate tissue.” Losing highly experienced professionals like Evans is straining the health system and the broader workforce. More than 200,000 health workers have contracted COVID-19 this year, and roughly 1,000 have died.

Other essential workers are bearing extraordinary risk, too. Francis Robateau was a veteran night manager for a Southern California grocery store, restocking shelves and managing inventory. Unable to both practice social distancing and keep the store filled with goods, he caught COVID-19. “I started having massive migraines,” he told me, adding that he still struggled with neurological symptoms and headaches weeks later. Concerned that his employer did not take safety protocols seriously enough, he ended up quitting. “I haven’t been making any income,” he told me. “My partner has been taking care of it—her mindset is ‘No, dude, you’re not feeling 100 percent; there’s no reason for you to take a full-time job.’”

For some, sickness has been catastrophic. Paz Aguilar, who worked at two fast-food restaurants in Oakland, California, ended up in a medically induced coma after contracting COVID-19, along with half a dozen of her co-workers. A stroke left her partially paralyzed. “I’d like to go back to work,” she told me, speaking in Spanish. But she cannot imagine doing so. That has put her and her extended family at severe economic risk, and increased the caretaking burden on her relatives.

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A Health Care Worker’s New Normal : The Picture Show : NPR

The daughter of health care worker in the New York City area portrays her family during the pandemic. Her photography gives witness to her mother’s determination to live fully in a new normal. — Laura Beltrán Villamizar, NPR photo editor

Raymonde Elian no longer does her hair and makeup before work. No more earrings. But she still aims to look “neat and clean” as it helps her feel in good spirit.

Melissa Bunni Elian


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Melissa Bunni Elian

Raymonde Elian no longer does her hair and makeup before work. No more earrings. But she still aims to look “neat and clean” as it helps her feel in good spirit.

Melissa Bunni Elian

My mother works as an emergency room technician at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, N.Y. This year, while I sought ways to work online and my father telecommuted, my mother has been risking her life to take care of others.

My mom is one of the health care workers you meet in the triage ward. Maybe she drew your blood or monitored your heart. If you succumb to the coronavirus, she’d be one of the staffers transporting your body to the overflowing morgue.

I wasn’t able to photograph her at the hospital. So like other photojournalists confined to their homes, I turned the camera to my own life and family. I focused on what I’ve always seen: my mother’s rituals and the subtle changes around our home.

In the spring, before wearing masks was common, my mother wouldn’t leave the house without one. She’d return from a 12-hour shift with trenches dug into her face by the N95 she had to reuse for a week at a time.

Many Americans have now returned to a semblance of life, but frontline families like ours continue to bear the greatest risk in this pandemic.

Health care workers were forced to come up with ways to preserve N95 masks. Raymonde Elian wore three masks so that the N95 was less exposed.

Melissa Bunni Elian


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Melissa Bunni Elian

Health care workers were forced to come up with ways to preserve N95 masks. Raymonde Elian wore three masks so that the N95 was less exposed.

Melissa Bunni Elian

When my mother left Haiti in 1979, she left behind my infant older sister and my father, who worked as an accountant at an elementary school. In the U.S., my mother initially assembled hand saws in a steel tool factory while attending school, then as a cashier at a department store.

By the time I was born in 1987, she and my father were both working in corporate America. My mom was working at an investment firm, but she had other career interests, so she began taking courses at Iona College. A philosophy course on death and dying inspired her to leave the corporate world.

At age 38, she began working in child care and then as a nurse’s aid, all while caring for our family and taking

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Grocery workers at greater risk for COVID without symptoms

Grocery workers are likely at greater risk of infection with the new coronavirus, a new study shows.

Not only that, but because a high percentage of them have no symptoms when they are infected, they could become sources of future spread, the researchers said.

For the study, Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health scientists studied the test results of workers at a single grocery store in Boston. One in five workers (20%) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and three-quarters of those with the virus had no symptoms.

These essential workers could be an important reservoir of infection, the investigators said. “Once essential workers are infected with SARS-CoV-2, they may become a significant transmission source for the community they serve,” the researchers explained.

The percentage of those infected was much higher than the virus’s prevalence in the local community, which was 0.9% to 1.3% at that time. The grocery workers who had customer-facing jobs were five times more likely to test positive, the findings showed.

The study was published this week in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The grocery workers had the coronavirus tests in May as part of a mandatory testing policy in Boston.

The workers also answered questions about symptoms and exposures, and completed detailed questionnaires about their lifestyles, medical and employment histories, working patterns, role at the store, commuting to and from work, and the protective measures they were able to take against infection at work. Most also answered questionnaires focusing on anxiety and depression.

The study was small and specific to the one location, the researchers cautioned.

“This is the first study to demonstrate the significant asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risks, and associated psychological distress of grocery retail essential workers during the pandemic,” Justin Yang and colleagues said in a journal news release.

About one in four of the 99 employees who completed the mental health questions reported feeling at least mild anxiety. About half of those respondents weren’t able to consistently practice social distancing at work. Those who were able to practice social distancing tended to be less anxious, according to the report.

Eight of the employees were mildly depressed. They were less likely to practice social distancing at work and relied on shared rides or public transportation. Those who drove their own car, walked or biked were far less likely to report depression.

“Our significant mental health finding calls for action in providing comprehensive employee assistance services to help essential workers cope with the psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study authors said.

The researchers also recommended that employers and government officials implement routine COVID-19 employee testing, and strategies to reduce contact.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips for preventing COVID-19 in the workplace.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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About 20% of grocery store workers had Covid-19, and most didn’t have symptoms, study found

These workers likely became a “significant transmission source” for Covid-19 without even knowing it because most in the study were asymptomatic.

The analysis, published Thursday in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is the first to demonstrate the significant asymptomatic infection rate, exposure risks and psychological distress grocery workers have felt during the pandemic.

In the study, 20% of the 104 grocery workers tested at a store in Boston in May had positive nasal swab tests.

This was a significantly higher rate of infection than what was seen in the surrounding communities, the researchers said. Workers who dealt with customers were five times as likely to test positive for Covid-19 as colleagues in other positions.

But three out of four of those who tested positive had no symptoms.

“We were definitely surprised to see that there were that many people that were asymptomatic,” said Dr. Justin Yang, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health who worked on the study. “This is definitely very alarming as it means that retail grocery store employees are exposed to customers and sort of serve as a middleman for the virus – like a super spreader almost.”
How the pandemic has changed Americans' spending and saving habits

Workers in the study had tried to take precautions. Nearly all, 91%, said they wore a face mask at work and 77% said they also wore masks outside of work. Yet only about 66% said they were able to practice social distancing consistently on the job.

This inability to social distance had an emotional, as well as a physical impact. Nearly a quarter of the people in customer service jobs said they had problems with anxiety and depression compared to 8% of workers who did not have to interact with customers. Employees who commuted to work by bike, car or by walking were less likely to experience depression than those who used public transportation, the study found.

Flying can be safer than grocery shopping, Harvard study asserts

“If you are in an environment when you’re literally in front of a customer, you can’t be more than six feet and that is really stressful for essential employees,” Yang said.

At least 108 grocery workers have died and more than 16,300 have been infected or exposed to Covid-19, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, said Thursday. The union represents 1.3 million employees.

The rates of infection among the workers in this study do seem high, Yang said. By comparison, an earlier study of Covid-19 infections among Dutch health care workers found the infection rate was about 10%.
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Yang said he hopes this study prompts the government and store owners to provide better guidance, routine testing and protection for grocery store workers.

There has been a national movement to designate grocery workers as first responders which would give them priority access to testing and personal protective equipment.

In an editorial for CNN in August, Marc Perrone, the President of UFCW and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris argued that grocery workers should also get hazard pay.
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Morale sags among British health workers, and other news from around the world.

As Britain is hit by a second wave of coronavirus infections and deaths, the country’s doctors and nurses are bracing for what is expected to be a deluge of new patients over the next six months. But this time, they say, the wave is coming without the same sense of caution among a coronavirus-weary public, nor with a clear government strategy to contain the virus and address rapidly filling intensive care units.

Politicians across the political spectrum in Britain largely accepted the need for the country’s first lockdown in the spring, and doctors limped through the crisis, fueled by adrenaline and the hope that the government could keep an eventual resurgence of cases from inundating the health service again.

That hope has not been realized. With 367 deaths and 22,885 confirmed cases on Tuesday alone, Britain has a second wave of infections that could test its overextended health service even more severely than the first did.

A decision by England’s health service to restore normal services has meant that there are fewer unoccupied hospital beds now than there were in the spring, and fewer doctors available to redeploy to coronavirus wards.

Making matters worse, hospitals are already receiving the usual wintertime stream of patients with influenza and other illnesses that can fill them above 95 percent of capacity even in a normal year.

“The first time around, it’s almost like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of medical challenge,” said Paul Whitaker, a respiratory doctor in Bradford, in northern England, where the number of coronavirus patients has returned to its early May peak.

“At the time, it felt like the thing to do, because it was unavoidable and we had to do our bit,” said Tom Lawton, an intensive care doctor in Bradford. “It was that kind of Blitz spirit. Whereas this time, it feels like this could have been avoided, and clearly it has been avoided in a number of countries.”

In other developments around the world:

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These Female Healthcare Workers Are Rural India’s First Defense Against COVID-19

Archana Ghugare’s ringtone, a Hindu devotional song, has been the background score of her life since March. By 7 a.m. on a mid-October day, the 41-year-old has already received two calls about suspected COVID-19 cases in Pavnar, her village in the Indian state of Maharashtra. As she gets ready and rushes out the door an hour later, she receives at least four more.

“My family jokes that not even Prime Minister Modi gets as many calls as I do,” she says.

Ghugare, and nearly a million other Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) assigned to rural villages and small towns across India, are on the front lines of the country’s fight against the coronavirus. Every day, Ghugare goes door to door in search of potential COVID-19 cases, working to get patients tested or to help them find treatment.

With 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, India has the second-highest tally in the world after the United States and its health infrastructure struggled to cope with the surge in COVID-19 patients this summer. India spends only 1.3% of its GDP on public health care, among the lowest in the world. The situation is stark in rural areas where 66% of India’s 1.3 billion people live and where health facilities are scant and medical professionals can be hard to find.

India’s ASHA program is likely the world’s largest army of all-female community health workers. They are the foot soldiers of the country’s health system. Established in 2005, a key focus of the program was reducing maternal and infant deaths, so all recruits are women. They have also played an essential role in India’s efforts to eradicate polio and increase immunization, according to numerous studies.

Read More: How the Pandemic Is Reshaping India

But even as health authorities have leaned on ASHAs to quell the spread of COVID-19 in rural areas, where a substantial number of new cases have been reported, many of these health care workers say the government is failing them. Pay was meager to begin with, but some workers have reported not being paid for months. Their hours have increased dramatically, but pay rises, when they have come, have not reflected the increased demands. Many ASHAs have also complained about not being provided adequate protective equipment for their high-risk work.

“They are the unsung heroes who are fighting to contain the unfettered spread of the virus in rural areas,” says Dr. Smisha Agarwal, Research Director at the John Hopkins Global Health Initiative. She argues it is vital to improve pay to boost morale and sustain this frontline workforce.

Ghugare was chosen from her village of 7,000 people in 2011. Since then, she has overseen countless births, meticulously monitored the health of thousands of newborn babies and strictly ensured immunization through door-to-door awareness campaigns. The personal relationships she built over the years have helped in the fight against COVID-19, giving her a good grasp of the medical histories of most of the 1,500 people assigned to her. “It’s all in

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Britain’s Health Workers Face 2nd Virus Wave, but This Time With Less Support

People have also begun complaining about long wait times.

“There is some disbelief that you’ve had six months to prepare for this and why haven’t you been training more nurses,” said Dr. Tamás Szakmany, an intensive care doctor in Newport, Wales. But, he said, “it’s not just like you’ve got a car factory and you suddenly need more transmissions, so you train the factory workers to build more transmissions. It’s just not that simple.”

Among doctors and nurses, a sense of battle fatigue has set in. Extra weekend shifts that were intended to be temporary have lasted through the summer, especially in northern cities where coronavirus wards remained busy even as a national lockdown was lifted in the summer. Health workers are calling in sick, many of them with anxiety and depression.

Rapid testing remains scarce for doctors and nurses. And health workers on coronavirus wards are supplied only with basic surgical masks, not the heavier-duty N-95 masks reserved for intensive care units.

“The first time around, it’s almost like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of medical challenge,” said Paul Whitaker, a respiratory doctor in Bradford, in northern England, where the number of coronavirus patients has returned to its early May peak.

“The hospital provided packed lunches for us all,” Dr. Whitaker added. “People were sending good luck messages. But the prospect of going into another six months, which is almost certainly what it’s going to be, is relatively frightening. How are you going to maintain the morale, the focus and the energy of all these people?”

In the ex-mining and manufacturing towns in England’s north that have been hit hardest by the latest surge of infections, doctors are especially harried. Nearly 40 percent of critically ill patients are now classified as the country’s most deprived, compared to a quarter of such patients in the spring and early summer.

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Covid-positive health workers asked to keep working as crisis worsens

Health workers in some hospitals in Liege, Belgium’s third largest city and a coronavirus hotspot, have been asked to continue working even if they test positive for Covid-19 — as long as they are not showing any symptoms of the disease.



a bus that is parked on the side of a road: An ambulance is seen at the hospital CHC Montlegia in Liege, Belgium, on Friday 23 October 2020.


© Bruno Fahy/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images
An ambulance is seen at the hospital CHC Montlegia in Liege, Belgium, on Friday 23 October 2020.

Top health official have warned that Belgium could run out of intensive care beds in as little as two weeks and some hospitals are facing staff shortages. The country of 11.5 million people has reported on average more than 13,000 cases a day in the past week, according to the national public health institute Sciensano. The Covid-19 outbreak in Belgium is the second worst in Europe in terms of new cases per capita, after only the Czech Republic.

Yves Van Laethem, Belgium’s spokesperson for the fight against the coronavirus, warned that unless Belgians change their behavior, intensive care units will reach their capacity of 2,000 patients in 15 days.

Liege, the largest city in the French-speaking Wallonia region, has the highest incidence rate in Belgium. Tje communications director of Liege University Hospital, Louis Maraite, told CNN on Tuesday that because of staff shortages, the hospital had “no choice” but to make doctors and nurses who tested positive but have no symptoms come to work.

“This is not a problem as they are working in coronavirus units with patients who also tested positive,” he added. Maraite said that health workers with Covid-19 accounted for 5% to 10% of the total hospital workforce.

Health workers who show symptoms, such as fever, have been asked not to come to work, and Maraite said the hospital could not force asymptomatic health workers to show up.

Another Liège hospital, CHC MontLégia, also confirmed to CNN that positive asymptomatic health workers have been asked to continue working on a voluntary basis and in the “strict observance of sanitary measures” that include limiting contact with their colleagues.

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The spokesperson for the private hospital’s communication department told CNN that positive asymptomatic staff are working mainly in Covid-19 units but can work across all units including those with non-covid patients, except the geriatric, neonatology and oncology departments, where patients are “particularly vulnerable”.

A spokeswoman for the Belgian Health Ministry told CNN allowing asymptomatic health workers to continue working is allowed in “very strict conditions” because there are not enough health care workers. “We try to ensure the security of all patients,” she added.

At a news conference Monday, Van Laethem said that 1,000 of the country’s intensive beds are already being used, with total of 1,250 set to be occupied by the end of the week. Both hospital and intensive care admissions are doubling every eight days, he added.

In an interview with state broadcaster RTBF on Monday,

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Workers at 11 Tenet Healthcare Hospitals Across California Overwhelmingly Vote to Strike, Calling for Contract to Address Pandemic Safety

SEIU: Workers at 11 Tenet Healthcare Hospitals Across California Overwhelmingly Vote to Strike, Calling for Contract to Address Pandemic Safety

PR Newswire

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27, 2020

Employees Want to Work with Tenet on a Contract that Ensures PPE, Staffing, and Clear Safety Protocols

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Workers at 11 Tenet Healthcare hospitals in California have voted overwhelmingly to go on strike to demand that the giant hospital chain bargain in good faith with employees over health, safety, and other working conditions in their facilities, as caregivers continue to risk their lives caring for patients with COVID-19.

The strike vote covers 4,300 workers at the 11 facilities who are members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. The vote margin was 96 percent in favor of the strike.

Tenet has rejected most of the workers’ proposals on pandemic safety. Workers are asking Tenet to go beyond the minimal federal guidelines to make sure the most comprehensive protections are in place.

“We are scared to come to work knowing we are at great risk of exposure to COVID-19,” said Gisella Thomas, a respiratory therapist at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. “We want to work with management at our hospitals to increase protections for our health, our patients’ health, our families’ health, and the health of our communities. We have put forth a pandemic safety proposal that addresses issues workers are concerned about, like staffing, PPE, and increased COVID-19 testing for employees.” 

Tenet has made more than $1 billion in profits in the first three quarters of 2020 and received more than $250 million in taxpayer bailout money in California alone. Tenet’s Chief Executive Officer Ron Rittenmeyer was paid more than $24 million in 2019, and the chain’s president and chief operating officer Saum Sutaria was paid nearly $14 million.

“We are calling on Tenet to increase its investment in worker safety and staffing in the middle of the worst pandemic in over a century – to ensure the safety of healthcare workers, our patients, and our entire communities.”

The strike will occur at the following Tenet hospitals in California:

INDIO: John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital
JOSHUA TREE: High Desert Medical Center
LAKEWOOD: Lakewood Regional Medical Center
LOS ALAMITOS: Los Alamitos Medical Center
MANTECA: Doctors Hospital of Manteca
MODESTO: Doctors Medical Center
PALM SPRINGS: Desert Regional Medical Center
SAN LUIS OBISPO: Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center
SAN RAMON: San Ramon Regional Medical Center
TEMPLETON: Twin Cities Community Hospital
TURLOCK: Emanuel Medical Center

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) is one of the largest unions of hospital workers in the United States, with 97,000 members. Learn more at www.seiu-uhw.org.

 

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Cision

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SOURCE SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West

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