Health professionals sacrificed their lives fighting Covid. It is not clear how many died.

Monica Leigh Newton said she turned on the car’s hazard lights and drove 100 miles an hour to take her mother, Elaine McRae, to the emergency room in Gulfport, Mississippi, where the older woman worked as a nurse on Covid-19.

McRae’s oxygen levels that August night dropped to a level that could cause brain damage. Newton’s mother never returned home after a positive test for Covid-19 at the hospital. Seventy-two days later, in November, she died in the same hospital where she had treated patients with coronavirus.

“I was literally watching her slowly deteriorate,” said Newton of his mother, whom she called her best friend and heroine. “She was missing out on everything I ever saw in my mother. My mother is the strongest human being in the world and this was slowly being sucked out of her by this virus. “

What bothers Newton is that no one knows exactly how many health professionals, like his mother, died of coronavirus – somehow quantifying the sacrifices they made and the suffering they experienced because of a disease they worked so hard to defeat.

As the number of Covid-19 deaths in the United States continues to rise, the deaths of health workers on the front lines remain largely unexplained. Doctors, nurses, paramedics and support staff boldly took a huge risk during the pandemic, the most devastating health crisis in more than 100 years, but there is no specific death toll for them. These are the same people who received a lot of applause at the end of their shifts and applause from the president and members of the top government and industry.

This hits Newton in a particularly difficult way.

One of the last times he saw his mother, Newton shared the news that she had passed the council’s certification test to become a registered nurse. Now working in a hospital in New Orleans, she struggles to follow in her mother’s footsteps and ensure that her hero is remembered.

“We don’t even know what or who we lost,” said Newton. “My mother served during this pandemic. She helped these people, and if my family hadn’t said anything, they would have just said that she is another number. “

Calculating the exact number of US healthcare professionals who died of Covid-19 and related complications is not easy and is getting more difficult as time goes on. There is no accurate or central database with this information.

Dr. Claire Rezba, an anesthesiologist from Virginia, maintained a national count that she posted to your Twitter account since March, when the pandemic began to spread across the United States.

I don’t think health systems have provided a service by not disclosing what’s going on inside their walls.

She maintains her count using obituaries, media reports, social media, memorials and any other means she can find. Rezba tweets about the deaths of nurses, doctors, emergency medical technicians, specialists and staff members every day.

Her count reached almost 1,700, a number she is sure to be conservative.

“Whenever I feel it is time to stop – because it hurts, there is an aspect of it that hurts – I see another story or some posts,” said Rezba. “And I think, ‘Well, just this one. I just have to make sure that people see this one more. ‘”

“It looks like there is no one else to really take the lead in this,” she added. “It shouldn’t be me. I mean, this is ridiculous. It really is ridiculous. “

A September report by National Nurses United, a nursing union, had a slightly higher estimate than Rezba’s, with just over 1,700 deaths among health workers since the pandemic began.

The latest count from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on December 22, is 955 deaths and more than 288,000 infections among healthcare professionals. Of these Covid-19 cases among healthcare professionals, the CDC only confirmed 75.7 percent of the time whether that doctor, nurse, paramedic or member of the support team died or not.

A spokesman for Health and Human Services said the figures were not comprehensive and noted that state health departments may have more accurate data.

Critics of the federal response to the coronavirus say the national count could be hampered by the White House’s meddling. The government suddenly announced its decision in July to have the Department of Health and Human Services take over the CDC’s collection of hospital coronavirus data, making it difficult to keep up with hospital data trends and reports.

“There is widespread resistance on the part of the healthcare industry to provide transparent information on the deaths of nurses and other healthcare professionals due to Covid-19,” said National Nurses United in its study. “At the same time, the federal, state and local governments have failed to compel health facilities to provide this data.”

It is difficult to know which count is correct. Only 15 states provide the infection number for healthcare workers on a weekly basis, according to the nursing union, and it was only in May that nursing homes were required to provide information about their workers’ infection and mortality to Medicare Centers and Medicaid Services.

Although the public can now access this information in nursing homes, hospitals are not required to share their data.

“I don’t think health systems have provided a service by not disclosing what’s going on inside their walls,” said Rezba. “Many of the deaths that I encounter from health professionals are really secret. They are swept under the rug. “

A team member puts his hand on a patient at ICU Covid-19 at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on December 7, 2020.Go Nakamura Archive / Getty Images

Rezba emphasized that these deaths also include the loss of the immense experience and knowledge that these health professionals had.

Newton said this happened to his mother, a nurse with decades of experience, who taught her elements of nursing that she said she could never have learned in school.

“My mom fought 100% tooth and nail for her patients,” she said. “And we lost it, society lost it – we lost someone who would have fought for everyone and anyone with whom she came in contact.”

The last time Newton was able to see his mother, she was unable to speak because of the tubes in her mouth, but McRae acknowledged the news that his daughter had passed the nursing board exam.

“She answered, but lost control,” said Newton between sobs. “It just wasn’t there anymore.”

The federal government does not require hospitals to provide data on infection and mortality rates for healthcare professionals and there is no central reporting structure to house them, said Katherine Hancock, head of care at the Cleveland Clinic, who oversees 70,000 health services. health workers.

The Cleveland Clinic tracks outbreaks within its medical facilities, she said. He reports these numbers and supports his team through hospitalizations and quarantines. So far, there has been a death, but the team remains physically and emotionally oppressed by the pandemic.

“We track and talk about it all day: not only are we obviously taking care of our patients, but we are also looking at the number of caregivers who are out because of Covid-19, those who are positive, those who are in the hospital and those who went back to work, ”said Hancock. “So, to be honest, we have great control and I don’t know why other people have such a hard time.”

With no one tracking these deaths, it is left to families, friends and communities who have lost loved ones who worked in the healthcare field to ensure that their sacrifices are not forgotten. All of this comes with greater emphasis for many, as the holidays and the desire to talk with the family arrived.