Why is there a need to count frontline healthcare worker deaths from Covid-19?
The government has no comprehensive record of the frontline healthcare workers who have died of Covid-19. As of 17 December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 928 deaths among health workers – but the agency admits that this is a likely undercount, and does not provide identifying data such as names. Other federal agencies maintain separate but incomplete lists of deaths, also lacking names. Our reporting has shown that the true number of deaths is far higher than any of these individual lists suggest, and reveals the human scale of the tragedy with hundreds of reported profiles of those who died.
How did you calculate the total number of deaths?
Since the first months of the pandemic, over 70 reporters at the Guardian and Kaiser Health News have scrutinized numerous governmental and private data sources, interviewed the bereaved and spoke with healthcare experts to build our count. The total number includes fatalities identified by labor unions, obituaries, news outlets and in online postings by the bereaved, as well as by relatives who spoke about their deceased family members with our team for the first time. We also include numbers reported by nursing homes to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and those reported by health facilities to state and federal occupational safety and health officials.
Journalists cross-referenced the data to ensure deaths were not counted twice. We also removed the names of a few hundred medical workers from the database after our reporting found that they contracted the virus through community transmission, on vacation, while out of work, or in other ways not directly connected with their occupation.
The total number remains an undercount. Nursing homes were only required to report staff deaths starting in May. And as one of our investigative reports revealed, many other health employers have failed to report deaths to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Osha).
In addition to doctors and nurses, why are you including social workers, hospital food-service workers or cleaning crews, as they probably weren’t treating Covid-19 patients?
Our goal is to record the life of every single healthcare worker who contracted the virus while working on the frontline. Even if they are not directly treating patients, all those who work in medical settings – whether they serve hospital meals, disinfect rooms, drive ambulances or perform administrative tasks – put themselves at risk by continuing to clock in throughout a deadly pandemic. This is because the virus is airborne, and workers can catch it from infected co-workers and asymptomatic patients. We are also including primary care providers such as family physicians or dentists, who face the same risks by caring for the sick and injured.
Who is not included?
We do not include retired healthcare workers or those who were probably exposed through community transmission. We also do not include non-medical essential frontline workers, such as supermarket employees, delivery workers, ride-share drivers or funeral home staff.
Why do you include data on race and ethnicity?
Across the country, Black and Hispanic people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. In the general population, federal data shows that they are three times more likely to become infected by the virus and twice as likely to die from it compared with their white counterparts. The data we have gathered indicates that those disparities extend to healthcare workers.
What are the limitations of your data?
We do not provide the name of every worker we believe to have died during the pandemic. This is because over 1,000 deaths counted by the government do not contain the names of the deceased. And in the minority of cases where family and friends announced a death in online postings, such as on Facebook, GoFundMe or a paid obituary, we are seeking additional information on the circumstances before releasing the names of the deceased.
What are the limitations of the charts on the main interactive page?
Owing to the fact that we do not possess data on every demographic category for every fatality, notably profession and race, the data visualizations reflect only the information that we do have. For profession, we possess data on more than 1,600 fatalities. For race, it is more than 600 deaths. For location, we have information on every fatality.
What can I do if I have information about a death here, or find an error in the report?
We welcome all contributions that may improve the quality of our data. If you know a healthcare worker who has died from Covid-19, please share the information by filling out this form. You can also write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Corrections and clarifications:
3 February 2021: an earlier version of this database incorrectly listed Dr Charles Kim of Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a Covid-19 fatality.
We would like to thank healthcare worker unions including AFSCME, National Nurses United, Health Professionals and Allied Employees, and to credit the work of Twitter user @CTZebra. Northeastern University assistant professor and health economist Angela Kilby and research assistants Joshua Bao and Shuyuan Zhou contributed research to our efforts.