A Parallel Pandemic Hits Health Care Workers: Trauma and Exhaustion

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Thousands of health care workers have already paid the ultimate price for their workaday devotion. Since March, more than 3,300 nurses, doctors, social workers and physical therapists have died from Covid-19, according to a tally by Kaiser Health News and the Guardian.

Experts say the death toll is most likely far higher. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts 1,332 deaths among medical personnel, which is striking given that its sister agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, lists roughly the same number of deaths just among nursing home workers — a small portion of those employed by the nation’s hospitals, health clinics and private practices.

A number of studies suggest that medical professionals made up 10 percent to 20 percent of all coronavirus cases in the early months of the pandemic though they comprise roughly 4 percent of the population.

Christopher R. Friese, a researcher at University of Michigan, said the government’s failure to track health care workers had most likely contributed to many unnecessary deaths. Without detailed, comprehensive data, he said, federal health authorities have been hamstrung in their ability to identify patterns and come up with interventions.

“The number of health care worker deaths in this country are staggering, but as shocking and horrifying as they are, we can’t be surprised because some very basic tools to address the crisis were left on the shelf,” said Dr. Friese, who directs the school’s Center for Improving Patient and Population Health.

Jasmine Reed, a spokeswoman for the C.D.C., acknowledged the limitations of its coronavirus case data, noting that the agency relies on reporting from state health departments and that each state determines what kind of information to collect and forward to federal authorities. At least a dozen states do not even participate in the C.D.C.’s case reporting process, she said.

Many medical workers who have survived Covid-19 face more immediate challenges. Dr. Bial, the pain specialist from Boston, is still plagued by fatigue and impaired lung function.

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