Gov’t failure to track Covid data puts health workers’ lives at risk — new report
INQUIRER.NET U.S. Bureau
October 1, 2020 at 10:50 am
In this image provided by Lizabeth Baker Wade, nurses at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 10, 2020, raise their fists in solidarity after telling managers they can't care for Covid-19 patients without N95 respirator masks to protect themselves. The hospital has suspended ten nurses from the ward, but has started providing nurses caring for Covid-19 patients with N95 masks. (Lizabeth Baker Wade via AP)

In this image provided by Lizabeth Baker Wade, nurses at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 10, 2020, raise their fists in solidarity after telling managers they can’t care for Covid-19 patients without N95 respirator masks to protect themselves. The hospital has suspended ten nurses from the ward, but has started providing nurses caring for Covid-19 patients with N95 masks. (Lizabeth Baker Wade via AP)

OAKLAND, California — A national organization of nurses released a new report charging federal and state governments of endangering the lives of health care workers by failing to publicly report accurate and timely data on the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on health care workers.

The report,  “Sins of Omission: How Government Failures to Track Covid-19 Data Have Led to More Than 1,700 Health Care Worker Deaths and Jeopardize Public Health” was released by National Nurses United (NNU), which has been has been tracking the deaths of U.S. registered nurses as well as the Covid-19 infections and deaths of health care workers because no one was reporting this information.

Sins of Omission has confirmed the deaths of more than 1,700 health care workers. The report includes a list of the known names of 213 registered nurses who died of Covid-19 as of Sept. 16, as well as the known names of 617 additional health care workers.

“We cannot forget the deaths of so many health care workers, which includes 213 nurses,” said Zenei Cortez, a Filipino American RN, and a president of NNU. “These deaths were avoidable and unnecessary due to government and employer willful inaction.

Cortez alleges that nurses and health care workers have been forced to work without the personal protective equipment they needed to do their job safely: “It is immoral and unconscionable that they lost their lives. Our state and federal governments must require hospitals and other health care 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.”

Up-to-date information is crucial for the nation to effectively respond to this pandemic, says Jean Ross, RN and a president of NNU. “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.”

Zenei Cortez is part of the presidents council of National Nurses United, which released the new report.

Health care employers have been hesitant to provide information on nurse and other health care worker Covid-19 infection rates and fatalities. Meanwhile, federal, state and local governments have failed to compel health care facilities to provide this data, giving these facilities no incentive to avoid becoming zones of infection.

Most states report only a limited subset of Covid-19 data, but comprehensive reporting is necessary to fully grasp the scope of the Covid-19 pandemic and respond effectively, NNU says. Only 15 states are providing infection numbers for all health care workers on a daily, semiweekly, or weekly basis.

In May, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to provide Covid-related health care worker infection and mortality data, which is publicly available from CMS. For the hospital industry, however, data collection on health care worker infections and deaths has been woefully inadequate, NNU contends.

At the federal level, the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been primarily responsible for tracking and reporting Covid-19 data, including information on testing, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

But the Trump administration has moved hospital Covid-19 data reporting from the CDC to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has hired private companies under nondisclosure agreements, keeping the majority of the data collected hidden from public view. Trump appointees within HHS’ communications staff have reviewed and edited the CDC’s weekly scientific reports to downplay risks.

NNU is demanding a stop to the politicizing of government agencies, such as the CDC.

On Oct. 2, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will be testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The hearing will examine  the Trump administration’s “unprecedented political interference in the work of scientists and public health experts” at the CDC and Food and Drug Administration, the administration’s “refusal to provide accurate and clear public health information,” and its failure “to develop and implement a comprehensive national plan to contain the coronavirus.”

The CDC is still the most appropriate federal agency to track and report Covid-19 data free of corporate or political influence, based on its clear subject matter expertise in infectious diseases response.

“Nurses call on the Trump administration to restore hospital Covid-19 data reporting to the CDC immediately. The CDC must then strengthen, improve, and expand its data tracking,” says Deborah Burger, RN, a president of NNU.

Nurses are calling on the federal government, states and localities to publicly report at least the following (for more details on what governments should report, read the statement):

  • Daily (as well as cumulative) totals on diagnostic testing and case counts at national, state, and county/local levels.
  • Daily and cumulative totals of health care worker infections and deaths at an establishment level, such as the specific hospital or business.
  • Data on symptomatic cases must be reported at national, state, and county/local levels (influenza-like illness and Covid-like illness).
  • Daily data on hospitalizations and deaths at national, state, and county/local levels.
  • Hospital capacity data updated in real time, 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.

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