Over 900 US health workers have died of COVID-19 -- and the toll is rising
Overworked doctor sitting in his office (Shutterstock.com)

More than 900 front-line health care workers have died of COVID-19, according to an interactive database unveiled Wednesday by The Guardian and KHN. Lost on the Frontline is a partnership between the two newsrooms that aims to count, verify and memorialize every U.S. health care worker who dies during the pandemic.

Some of these deaths were preventable. Poor preparation, government missteps and an overburdened health care system increased that risk. Inadequate access to testing, a nationwide shortage of protective gear and resistance to social distancing and mask-wearing have forced more patients into overburdened hospitals and driven up the death toll.

Gaps in government data have increased the need for independent tracking. The federal government has failed to accurately count health care worker fatalities. As of Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 587 deaths among health workers — but the agency does not list specific names and has conceded this is an undercount.

Recent moves by the White House underscore the need for public data and accountability. In July, the Trump administration ordered health facilities to send data on hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, bypassing the CDC. In the succeeding days, vital information on the pandemic disappeared from the public eye. (The data was later restored following a public outcry, but the agency indicated it may no longer update the figures because of a change in federal reporting requirements.)

Lost on the Frontline reporters have compiled hundreds of potential cases through crowdsourcing and reports from colleagues, social media, online obituaries, workers unions and local media. They are independently confirming each death before publishing names, data and obituaries.

Exclusive stories by the reporters have revealed that many health care workers are using surgical masks that are far less effective than N95 masks and have put them in jeopardy. Emails obtained via a public records request showed that federal and state officials were aware in late February of dire shortages of PPE.

Further investigations found that health workers who contracted the coronavirus and their families now struggle to access death and other benefits in the workers’ compensation system. Our reporting has also examined the deaths of 19 health care workers under age 30 who died from COVID-19.

We are continuing to gather the names of health care workers who’ve died and dig into why so many are falling ill. We welcome tips and feedback at frontline@theguardian.com and covidtips@kff.org.