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Members of National Nurses United observe a moment of silence for nurses who have died from Covid-19 near the White House on May 7, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trump's Failure on Covid-19 Testing and Tracking Data Has Led to Deaths of 1,700 Healthcare Workers, Nurses Union Report Shows

"The politicizing of government agencies, such as the CDC, must stop."

Julia Conley, staff writer

The largest nurses' union in the U.S. revealed Monday that the federal government's failure to track and report data on Covid-19 deaths has led to the deaths of at least 1,700 healthcare workers while leaving medical facilities with little incentive "to avoid becoming zones of infection."

In its report, "Sins of Omission: How Government Failures to Track Covid-19 Data Have Led to More Than 1,700 Healthcare Worker Deaths and Jeopardize Public Health," National Nurses United lists the names of at least 213 registered nurses who have died of complications from Covid-19. 

The nurses are among 1,718 healthcare workers who have died, including 448 who worked in hospital settings. 

"Nurses know that we need detailed, consistent data to understand how and where the virus is spreading, who is most vulnerable to infection, and whether interventions are effective. Unfortunately, instead of tracking and reporting Covid-19 data, federal and state governments have ignored, hidden, and manipulated Covid-19 data." —Jean Ross, NNU

While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report Covid-19 fatality and infection rates in May, data collection for the hospital industry has been "woefully inadequate," NNU said. Only 15 states are currently reporting infection numbers for healthcare workers on a daily, semi-weekly, or weekly basis.

As NNU said in a press statement, the Trump administration has moved reporting on Covid-19 numbers from the purview of the CDC to the Health and Human Services Department, which "which has hired private companies under nondisclosure agreements, keeping the majority of the data collected hidden from public view."

"The politicizing of government agencies, such as the CDC, must stop," said NNU. 

Jean Ross, a president of the organization and a registered nurse, said keeping track of healthcare workers' infections and deaths from Covid-19 at hospitals where patients are being treated "is crucial for the nation to effectively respond to this pandemic."

"Nurses know that we need detailed, consistent data to understand how and where the virus is spreading, who is most vulnerable to infection, and whether interventions are effective," said Ross. "We can use this information to learn how to prevent the spread of future pandemics. Unfortunately, instead of tracking and reporting Covid-19 data, federal and state governments have ignored, hidden, and manipulated Covid-19 data."

Part of the hospital industry's reluctance to acknowledge the extent to which Covid-19 has spread through its facilities is likely financial, NNU said. Hospitals have an "interest in putting up barriers to Covid-19-related workers' compensation for registered nurses and other health care workers in many states."

"To add insult to injury, a number of states, including California, have laws that grant presumptive eligibility for workers' compensation to some publics afety employees," the report reads. "These occupations, such as police officers and firefighters, have predominately male workforces. However, nurses and other health care workers in the predominately female healthcare workforce have not been granted such protections, even though, by the nature of their work, they suffer some of the highest risks of injury and illness of any profession."

To standardize reporting on infections and deaths between states and localities, NNU called in its report for public reporting of:

  • Daily data and cumulative totals on diagnostic testing and case counts at national, state, and county/local levels.
  • Daily data on health care worker infections and deaths at an establishment level, such as the specific hospital or business.
  • Data on symptomatic cases at national, state, and county/local levels including influenza-like illness and Covid-like illness.
  • Daily reporting of data on hospitalizations and deaths at national, state, and county/local levels.
  • Hospital capacity data at national, state, and county/local levels; updated in real time; and including total and available hospital beds by type (e.g., ICU, medical/surgical, telemetry, etc.), staffing, health care worker exposures and infections, and nosocomial (hospital-acquired) patient infections.
  • Data on the stock and supply chain of essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies at national, state, and county/local levels.

The deaths of more than 1,700 healthcare workers "were avoidable and unnecessary due to government and employer willful inaction," said Zenei Cortez, a president of NNU and registered nurse. 

"Nurses and health care workers were forced to work without personal protective equipment they needed to do their job safely. It is immoral and unconscionable that they lost their lives," Cortez added. "Our state and federal governments must require hospitals and other healthcare employers to publicly report infection rates and deaths of their workers. We have the right to a safe workplace under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Information is a part of safety. But some employers are not telling nurses when they have been exposed or who has been infected. This is irresponsible and dangerous for nurses, health care workers, and patients.”

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