NPR’s Steve Inskeep talks to investigative reporter Christina Jewett of Kaiser Well being Information a few yearlong mission that exposed greater than 3,600 U.S. well being care staff died of COVID-19.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Over the previous 12 months, greater than 3,600 well being care staff died from the coronavirus in the USA. This isn’t an official authorities statistic as a result of the U.S. authorities has not been doing an excellent job of monitoring these deaths. The rationale we all know that quantity – 3,600 lifeless – is as a result of reporters at Kaiser Well being Information and The Guardian determined to construct their very own database. Their investigation is named Misplaced on the Frontline. And at the moment marks one 12 months since they started counting. Right here to debate their findings is Christina Jewett, an investigative reporter with Kaiser Well being Information. Welcome to this system.
CHRISTINA JEWETT: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: Why hasn’t the federal government been in a position to gather this info very properly?
JEWETT: Properly, the CDC has been making an attempt. The an infection reporting types they get are supposed to point if an individual is a well being care employee. However that is solely truly coming in for about 18% of the instances. Then you might have OSHA, the Occupational Security and Well being Administration.
JEWETT: They mainly left it as much as well being care employers to determine whether or not they wished to report a demise. After which you might have the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tends to trace this kind of factor. However only in the near past, they mentioned they don’t seem to be going to be monitoring COVID deaths on the job. They mentioned they’ll stick to their conventional focus, which is catastrophic accidents, issues like somebody crushed by a steamroller. So nobody’s actually taken possession of this from the federal authorities. Even the Biden administration has mentioned that is as much as the personal sector.
INSKEEP: And this feels necessary simply to know, to recollect how many individuals died who had been, as part of their job, in lots of instances, exposing themselves to individuals who had coronavirus. So how did you go about looking for out what number of had died?
JEWETT: So daily, we had two individuals who scoured the Web. They had been going to social media web sites, union memorial web sites, GoFundMe pages, obituaries. We counted each report back to the federal government the place the ability was named. They introduced us to three,600 instances, which is definitely 2,000 greater than the CDC counted. And for greater than 450 of these instances, we referred to as the households. We referred to as the employers. We tried to seek out out what security issues these staff had and who they had been.
INSKEEP: Which is an terrible factor to must do, to name members of the family who’ve simply misplaced somebody. However I do know from expertise, usually, they’re relieved that anybody cares, that somebody calls to know. What was that have like for you?
JEWETT: You realize, it was onerous. I lined crime after I was in my 20s. However now I am a mother. And I actually rely by myself mother. So I perceive how onerous that is. You realize, there was one case that actually sticks with me, a 39-year-old man named Vincent DeJesus. And he was a nurse. And he instructed his brother he was acutely conscious that if he wound up caring for a COVID affected person, his surgical masks and face protect in all probability simply wasn’t going to be sufficient to guard him. And he died. And nobody from the hospital even reported that case to work security regulators. And there was a video somebody took of his physique being rolled down a gurney within the basement of the hospital with all of the well being care staff, you recognize, doing signal of the cross, wiping away tears. And that one simply actually acquired me within the intestine. So these instances, they stick to you.
INSKEEP: The toughest a part of that story is remembering what number of well being care staff weren’t correctly outfitted to guard themselves.
JEWETT: Yeah. I imply, at first what you had was a provide chain disaster. There simply weren’t sufficient N95s. And as time went on, there was a way that the surgical masks and the face protect was enough for well being care staff caring for COVID sufferers. And what’s actually attention-grabbing there’s that guideline from the CDC was written very early within the pandemic. And it was primarily based on what occurred with the primary SARS outbreak virtually 20 years in the past. And so for that one, the sufferers had been actually contagious once they confirmed up on the hospital needing intubation. And in order that was believed right here to be the riskiest second, when these sufferers crashed and people medical doctors had to try this intubation.
However final summer season, what we discovered was that this virus was totally different. Folks had been contagious earlier. And folks had been contagious once they had been coughing, once they’re speaking, once they’re respiratory. And so with this pandemic, what you had was, you recognize, a nursing assistant in a small room with a resident in a nursing dwelling. They’re brushing their hair. They’re brushing their tooth. They’re bathing them. And people staff had been simply at actually unimaginable danger.
INSKEEP: Statistically, whenever you undergo these greater than 3,000 lives, what are you able to say about them total, about who they had been?
JEWETT: What we all know is that about two-thirds of them had been folks of shade. A couple of third had been immigrants. And by and huge, it was primarily not medical doctors who had been dying. It was affected person care technicians. It was nursing assistants. It was nurses. About 30% labored in hospitals, however most did not. They largely labored in nursing houses, clinics, psychological, behavioral well being. And these well being care staff, they died youthful than the remainder of society that we noticed die of the coronavirus – on common 59 in comparison with 78 total.
INSKEEP: Of the well being care staff who’ve survived, many are nonetheless going through the pandemic, which continues. Are folks higher protected than they had been?
JEWETT: They completely are. The vaccine has been an enormous recreation changer. However we’re nonetheless studying extra in regards to the danger to the employees. Not too long ago, Harvard researchers found that well being care staff in that surgical masks and face protect did catch the coronavirus from caring for sufferers, although the steerage for months and months mentioned that that may be a protected method to maintain our sufferers. And that was one thing that nursing unions warned about even earlier than the primary case hit U.S. shores. They mainly mentioned, we have to use the precautionary precept, do max safety for an airborne virus till we all know what we’re coping with. And largely, in plenty of quarters, they had been ignored. They needed to take to the streets to demand N95s. And sadly, they noticed tons of of nurses die throughout this pandemic.
INSKEEP: Christina Jewett of Kaiser Well being Information is a part of the Misplaced on the Frontline mission. Thanks a lot.
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