Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Members of National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the United States, protest in front of the White House April 21, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Members of National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the United States, protest in front of the White House April 21, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Fauci Admits PPE Shortages Under Trump Increased Covid Death Toll of Frontline Healthcare Workers

More than 3,600 health workers died of Covid-19 during the first year of the pandemic, according to a new investigation.

Jake Johnson

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., admitted in an interview with The Guardian Thursday that major shortages of masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment under the Trump administration contributed to the deaths of more than 3,600 healthcare workers during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Nobody chooses to go to work and die. We need to be more prepared, and the government needs to be more responsible in terms of keeping healthcare workers safe."
—Mary Jane Abt-Fagan

"During the critical times when there were shortages was when people had to use whatever was available to them. I'm sure that increased the risk of getting infected among healthcare providers," said Fauci, who served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases under former President Donald Trump and remains in that role under President Joe Biden.

"We rightfully refer to these people without hyperbole—that they are true heroes and heroines," Fauci said of healthcare workers who continue to put their health and lives at risk on the frontlines of the deadly pandemic.

According to a yearlong joint investigation by Kaiser Health News and The Guardian, more than 3,600 healthcare workers died of Covid-19 during the first 12 months of the crisis—with lower-paid workers such as nurses, nursing home employees, and support staff far more likely to lose their lives than physicians.

"Many of these deaths could have been prevented," the outlets noted. "Widespread shortages of masks and other personal protective gear, a lack of Covid testing, weak contact tracing, inconsistent mask guidance by politicians, missteps by employers, and lax enforcement of workplace safety rules by government regulators all contributed to the increased risk faced by healthcare workers."

Despite widespread calls to take swift and decisive action, Trump dragged his feet in invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to facilitate mass production of PPE during the early months of the pandemic, a failure that forced many healthcare workers to reuse masks, go without gloves, and wear trash bags as gowns.

"I think that right now people think of us as heroes, but we're feeling like martyrs," one nurse said during a protest outside the White House last April. "We're feeling like we're being left on the battlefield with nothing."

Shortly after taking office, Biden wielded the DPA to accelerate the nation's vaccination campaign and address remaining PPE shortages.

While healthcare worker deaths have slowed since coronavirus vaccines were made available in December, KHN and The Guardian counted "more than 400 healthcare worker deaths since the vaccine rollout began"—a signal that more needs to be done to ensure frontline employees are adequately protected. In total, the U.S. has reported nearly 31 million coronavirus cases and more than 558,000 deaths.

"Nobody chooses to go to work and die," said Mary Jane Abt-Fagan, the mother of a Texas OB-GYN resident who lost her life to Covid-19 in September. "We need to be more prepared, and the government needs to be more responsible in terms of keeping healthcare workers safe."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Citing Need for 'New, Inclusive Leadership,' Chuy García Files for Chicago Mayoral Race

"We have an opportunity to elect a trusted and experienced leader with a history of building coalitions and a vision for a brighter future for all Chicagoans," said the Democratic congressman.

Jessica Corbett ·

On Cyber Monday, Climate Activists Take Aim at Fashion Industry

"The fashion industry is one of the largest polluting industries globally. We can all do better, but it's on companies to make this industry better for workers, the planet, and consumers alike."

Jessica Corbett ·

Biden Accused of Selling Out Rail Workers by Urging Congress to Prevent Strike

"Biden is siding with corporate rail bosses over the rank-and-file workers who voted against this agreement," said one progressive commentator after the president urged lawmakers to take action to force through a deal without paid sick leave.

Brett Wilkins ·

Analysis Finds State Legislators Proposed 306 Bills Targeting Trans People in Past 2 Years

"Right-wing state lawmakers are obsessed with taking away the rights of trans people and we're obsessed with knocking them out of public office," said one rights group.

Julia Conley ·

Biden Mulls Sending Long-Range Missiles to Ukraine

While Ukrainians and supporters welcomed Boeing's proposal to arm Ukrainian forces with long-range precision-guided bombs, one anti-war voice accused the American military-industrial complex of "dictating the U.S. foreign policy and profiteering from wars."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo