COVID-19 cases among health care workers under-reported by CDC, nurses union says


Fiana Tulip spent the last 10 weeks trying to figure out how her mother, a health care worker in Dallas, contracted and died of COVID-19.

Isabelle Papadimitriou, 64, was a respiratory therapist at the Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation. She died on July 4, one week after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Tulip said she learned after talking with her mother’s colleagues and reading her journals and text messages that the hospital failed to alert her mother and other staff members at the rehabilitation center that one of the patients had tested positive for COVID-19.

“It breaks my heart to think about my mom walking into the face of danger, without realizing it.” Tulip said. “There wasn’t a kind of notification system in place.”

Baylor Scott & White did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In July, a spokesperson for Baylor Scott & White declined to answer questions on whether Papadimitriou was working directly with COVID-19 patients who had active infections.

A new report by the National Nurses United union found more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 infection among health care workers than previously reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Sept. 16, at least 258,768 health care workers had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the report. At the same time, the CDC reported 153,306 cases, according to the union’s nationwide study.

The report titled, “Sins of omissions: How government failure to track COVID-19 data led to more than 1,700 health care worker deaths and jeopardize public health,” blames the failure by federal and state governments to track and publicly report “transparent, accurate, and timely” data on the pandemic for health care workers infected and killed by the virus.

Only 16 states are providing infection numbers for all health care workers on a daily, semiweekly, or weekly basis, according to the report. In Texas, hospitals are only required to report daily bed capacity and COVID-19 test results on a daily basis.

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“If hospitals are not widely required to publicly disclose their deaths and infection rates, they lack important incentives not to become zones of infection,” states the report. “We cannot allow the more than 1,700 deaths, many of them avoidable, to be swept under the rug, and vanished from our collective memory by the health care industry.”

The report found that minorities represent 58% of the registered nurses who have died of COVID-19. They make up 24% of the profession.

Zenei Cortez, a registered nurse and a president of the union, said in a news release that nurses and health care workers have been forced to work without personal protective equipment. Cortez asked that state and federal governments publish daily reports of cases and deaths down to the local level, along with the names of the hospitals and health care providers.

“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,” Zenei wrote.

After her mother’s death, Tulip also learned about personal protective equipment shortages and a lack of face mask enforcement when patients refused to wear their masks at the rehab center.

Days before her mother’s funeral in Brownsville, Tulip wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and criticized him for his response to the pandemic and invited him to her mother’s funeral. As of Tuesday, she had not heard back from his office.

“I wanted him to see what it was like to lose a family member, to lose a healthcare professional,” Tulip said. ”I was hoping that the emotional aspect would encourage him to do more to help, rather than jeopardizing the lives of our loved ones for the economy.”

Next week, Tulip and other family members who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 will be hosting a week of mourning. The event is hosted by Marked by COVID, an online community that wants to elevate awareness about COVID-19 by sharing the stories of those they lost.

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