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As COVID-19 deaths near 240,000 in the United States and top 1,275,000 million worldwide, two recent reports highlight the grim toll that the pandemic continues to take on nurses across the globe.

An analysis from the International Council of Nurses (ICN) reveals that 1,500 nurses have died after contracting COVID-19 as of the end of October 2020, up from 1,097 in August. What’s more, that number includes nurses from only 44 of the world’s 195 countries, and is thus an underestimate of nursing deaths, according to a press release from the ICN. The ICN estimates that over 20,000 healthcare workers could have died from the virus so far.

“The fact that as many nurses have died during this pandemic as died during World War I is shocking,” states Howard Catton, RN, ICN chief executive officer, in the release. “Since May 2020 we have been calling for the standardized and systematic collection of data on healthcare worker infections and deaths, and the fact that is still not happening is a scandal.” The ICN is a federation of more than 130 national nurses associations worldwide.

Nurses at High Risk

At the same time, the October 26, 2020 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)says that of the U.S. healthcare providers hospitalized during March 1-May 31, 2020 for COVID-19, nursing-related occupations (36.3%) represented the largest proportion.

An analysis of the MMWR study in Health Affairs notes that the nursing-related jobs included nurses, who represented 27.8% of those who were hospitalized, and certified nursing assistants, who represented 8.5%. It also notes that almost three-quarters of the hospitalized healthcare workers were female.

According to the researchers, the data show that nurses face a comparatively high potential risk of contracting the coronavirus and developing COVID-19, notes Health Affairs. This is likely “because of their frequent and close patient contact, leading to extended cumulative exposure time,” says the Health Affairs article, quoting the MMWR.

That nursing makes up such a large percentage of the U.S. healthcare workforce “has implications for the capacity of the healthcare system, specifically nursing staff members, to respond to increases in COVID-19 cases in the community,” according to MMWR.

The research did not collect information on the degree, frequency and duration of patient contact. Also, it did not determine whether healthcare providers were exposed to coronavirus in the workplace or community.

“None of us are going to cope and our economies won’t recover if we don’t keep our healthcare workers and nurses working and able to look after all of us,” says ICN’s Catton.

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