Recent report finds nurses of color disproportionately affected by COVID-19

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A new report from the National Nurses Union, titled Sins of Omission, shows that the lack of PPE paired with “a failure by employers and governments to track infection rates” directly resulted in the deaths of more than 3,200 healthcare workers. 

According to the report, there have been over 791,000 cases of COVID-19 among healthcare workers as of February 2021. Over 536,000 of those deaths came from nursing home healthcare workers. 

The report finds that at least 329 registered nurses died of COVID-19 and related complications. 170 of those were nurses of color—a disproportionate number that reflects the disparate effect of COVID-19 on communities of color. Under one-quarter of nurses in the U.S. are people of color, while over half of the nurses that died from COVID-19 were nurses of color. 

“Our survey shows that COVID-19 not only continues to disproportionately harm registered nurses of color, but that our state and federal governments are not holding hospitals and other health care employers accountable,” said Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, nurse and a president of the National Nurses Union. “Governments must require hospitals to publicly report COVID-19 infections and deaths of nurses and other health care workers. Nurses and other health care workers were and still are being forced to work without the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to do their jobs safely. To this end, we are also calling on the CDC to fully recognize aerosol transmission and to update and strengthen its COVID-19 guidance to provide protection from airborne spread of this virus.”

The union’s report notes that 3,200 is likely a conservative estimate of deaths because many cases were not reported by traditional news sources or public agencies. 

“The lack of transparency about nurse and other health care worker deaths due to COVID-19 is a travesty,” said Jean Ross, a nurse and a president of NNU. “Our state and federal governments must hold the health care industry accountable and require hospitals and other health care employers to publicly report the Covid-19 deaths of their workers. We cannot forget the deaths of so many health care workers, including 329 registered nurses, who were forced to work without the personal protective equipment they needed to do their jobs safely.”

In the Sins of Omission report, the union found that New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, and Florida accounted for the majority of nurse fatalities due to COVID-19. Until the issues found in the report are addressed, the union says that COVID-19 will continue to have a disproportionate impact on nurses of color.

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