A new report further reveals the devastating toll COVID-19 has taken on frontline health care workers, with Filipino American nurses in particular dying at a disproportionate rate.
A report release in September by National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union, found that California is leading in COVID-19 infection rates amongst health care workers nationwide. The Golden State reported 35,525 infection cases, followed by Georgia at 17,317, then Florida at 16,380. California ranks third in overall health care worker deaths, behind New York and New Jersey.
Filipino nurses in particular were found, as of September, to represent a third of the nursing population’s COVID-19 deaths, despite only making up 4% of all nurses in the United States. National Nurses United believes the death count has gone up since then.
“A lot of Filipino nurses hold bedside positions,” explained Elizabeth West, a Sacramento registered nurse of Filipino decent who became infected with COVID-19. “We are right next to the patient when they get intubated… when they go into cardiac arrest… we are the first ones there.”
West, whose mother was also a nurse, said the cultural stress of supporting multigenerational families in the U.S. and abroad might also explain why Filipino nurses are disproportionately effected.
“We are all about family. It could be an uncle who needs help in the Philippines,” West said. “We are working two, three jobs… our mother, brother, living with us… a lot of times it’s too much for the body to handle.”
Nationwide, nurses are also speaking up and protesting work conditions they call unsafe. National Nurses United found 87% of surveyed nurses reuse at least one piece of PPE and 23% of surveyed nurses get tested for COVID-19, as of September.
On Aug. 5, thousands of nurses across the country held a National Day of Action, demanding that the Senate pass the HEROES Act, a pending bill proponents said would ensure domestic production of PPE through the Defense Production Act. Advocates said the bill would also extend unemployment benefits and daycare subsidies through the end of 2020 to families in need.
“I don’t know what the long-term effects are. That’s what’s weighing in the back of my head,” said West on whether she’s worried about her own health and wellness after recovering from COVID-19. “It’s a calling for me to help people. It’s something that’s innate.”
The report concludes with the names of over 600 health care frontline workers who died due to COVID-19 and related complications as of Sept. 16. A spokesperson with National Nurses United said the union used media reports, social media and obituaries to determine its list of registered nurses who have died of COVID-19. The number is most certainly an undercount because the organization believes many deaths are not reported publicly.