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The US death toll from Covid-19 crossed the grim milestone of 300,000 Monday, just hours after the first doses of a new vaccine were given to high-risk healthcare workers.
Frontline healthcare worker have shouldered an extraordinary burden over the last 10 months and represent a disproportionate share of the sick.
The Guardian, in partnership with Kaiser Health News, is investigating the deaths of nearly 1,500 healthcare workers who appeared to have died of Covid-19 after working on the frontlines. The number of dead is expected to climb significantly as new data sources are unlocked in the coming weeks. Our data shows that the majority of healthcare workers who have died are people of color.
You can read hundreds of their stories in our interactive database. A few of their stories are below.
Nueva Parazo Singian, 44
Nurse practitioner was devoted to her family and patients
Occupation: Nurse practitioner
Employer: CareMore Health; Cerritos, California
Died: 5 September 2020
Nueva Parazo was a doting daughter who wanted to spoil her parents. “She always makes it a point to bring me and her mother to fancy restaurants,” her father, Chito Parazo, said.
The family’s only surviving child – an older brother, Xerxes, died at age nine back in the family’s native Philippines – Nueva saw it as her responsibility to care for her parents as they grew older. As a nurse practitioner in assisted living facilities, she would have been uniquely prepared to do so.
Nueva was laser-focused and compassionate at work, her father said. She checked in on patients on days off. A single mother of three children ages 18 to 22, Nueva longed to spend more time with family. She told friends she was interested in pursuing a PhD and transitioning from bedside nursing to teaching.
Chito said that early in the pandemic Nueva struggled to access adequate PPE. She developed Covid symptoms over the summer and was hospitalized in early August. She spent weeks on a ventilator before dying.
CareMore Health confirmed she was an employee but did not respond to additional requests for comment.
Chito consoles himself with memories of family dinners out, time with his grandchildren and the belief his daughter died in the service of others. Still, he struggles to make sense of his loss.
“It’s not the normal cycle of life,” he said. “It should be our children who bury us. Not the other way around.”
– Danielle Renwick
Brianne Laughing, 34
Young addiction counselor ‘lived for her son’
Occupation: Behavioral health technician
Employer: Na’Nizhoozhi Center in Gallup, New Mexico
Died: 8 July 2020
When Brianne Laughing was 24 and pregnant, the father of her child walked out. But Laughing “refused to get down on herself”, her mother, Laura Chato, said. Instead, she “poured herself into raising Kyus. She lived for her son.”
Laughing worked overtime at a substance abuse rehabilitation center in Gallup so that she could treat Kyus to video games and sports gear. She would take him on trips to Las Vegas, Santa Monica and the Grand Canyon, stopping at aquariums, zoos or roller coasters along the way. “She wouldn’t let what happened to her define them,” Chato said.
Caring for some of Gallup’s poorest people, Laughing helped her clients redefine themselves, too. Many who experienced substance abuse, homelessness and trauma were, like Laughing and her mother, Navajo. “She was struck to see her own people struggling,” Chato said. “Some only a couple degrees removed.”
Laughing worked as Covid-19 spread in the community near Albuquerque, even as she had “to buy all of her own masks and gloves,” her mother said. Kevin Foley, executive director at the Na’Nizhoozhi Center, said “protective equipment has been available to our staff throughout the pandemic.” He added that Laughing “lived up to her name”. “She brought joy to everyone she worked with,” he said.
Laughing felt nauseous on 17 June and sought help on 19 June at the Gallup Indian Medical Center, but the facility was flooded with patients. She was transported to a makeshift overflow unit: a Days Inn on Route 66.
She was there, alone but for a once-daily visit by a nurse, her mother said. Two days later, Laughing was evacuated to an Albuquerque hospital and placed on a ventilator. She died a month before her 35th birthday. Her son now lives with Chato.
– Eli Cahan
William Ricketts, 59
Nurse lost a son in Afghanistan and used sorrow for good
Occupation: Registered nurse
Workplace: MS Care Center of Alcorn county; Corinth, Mississippi
Died: 9 November 2020
Ben Ricketts was surprised a few years ago when he phoned his father and found out he was still on the road, later than usual. When he heard his dad had stopped to help a family stuck on the roadside with a medical emergency, it made sense. William Ricketts was always willing to help someone in need.
Ben’s older brother, Seth, died as a serviceman in Afghanistan 10 years ago. Ben said he and his father sat through many late-night grief-filled talks. He was not as quick to laugh, his son said, but he was sure to be fun and loving with his seven grandsons. And William Ricketts turned his sorrow into something good: he launched an annual SSG Seth Ricketts Memorial Ride that raised money for a local veteran’s charity.
Ricketts worked for 26 years as a trauma and emergency room nurse at a Mississippi hospital before he was laid off this year during hospital cutbacks. Ricketts found work at a nursing home, and was careful to wear masks and avoid crowds to protect the elderly residents, Ben said.
William had ample protective gear, but he had some concerns about his colleagues’ dedication to using it, his son said. Around the time Ricketts fell ill, the facility, in required Medicare filings, reported 21 confirmed Covid-19 cases among staff members and 11 among residents. In the week ending 8 November, the facility reported dozens more – 80 cases among residents and 50 among staffers.
MS Care Center declined comment on Ricketts’s death.
– Christina Jewett
Sam Scolaro, 75
Family doctor was eager to get back to treating patients
Occupation: General practitioner
Workplace: Florida Medical Clinic; Riverview, Florida
Died: 7 Aug 2020
Sam Scolaro was a teenager when he decided to become a doctor. He had watched an older cousin, a general practitioner, perform surgery and, though he had to brace himself to avoid fainting, was awestruck. A practicing Catholic, he made a promise to God that if he got into medical school he would help his patients until the day he died, according to his daughter Stephanie Scolaro.
After his residency, Scolaro opened a family office in Brandon, Florida, outside Tampa, where he worked for 38 years. His daughter, the office operations manager, said patients were willing to wait hours – bringing blankets and snacks – for the chance to hear his expert diagnosis. They lit up when he entered the room.
“He never met a stranger,” said Stephanie Scolaro. “If he knew you, he loved you.”
Scolaro was often the first to welcome new physicians to the community, sending them patients and introducing them to colleagues. When he closed his family office and went to work for the Florida Medical Clinic, many of his patients followed.
This summer, as the number of Covid-19 cases rose in Florida, Scolaro continued to treat patients. He developed Covid symptoms in July and was hospitalized soon after. His daughter believes he contracted the virus while caring for an asymptomatic patient. Eddie Louderback, associate director of physician offices at Florida Medical Clinic, said the clinic had implemented strict safety protocols and it was “very unlikely” Solaro became infected at work.
While hospitalized, Scolaro told his nurses he was eager to get back to his patients.
– Zoe Chevalier
Jessica Cavazos, 44
‘She was everybody’s nurse’
Occupation: Licensed vocational nurse
Workplace: Briarcliff Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; McAllen, Texas
Died: 12 July 2020
Jessica Cavazos was the person relatives and friends called for advice, medical and otherwise. A nurse known for her bright-red lipstick and manicured nails, she was equal parts baby whisperer and no-nonsense counselor. “Everybody looked to her,” her sister, Becky Garza, said. “She was everybody’s nurse.”
Cavazos found her calling early – she attended a high school that specialized in medicine – and was driven by curiosity and empathy. When her sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Cavazos went to work at a behavioral health clinic. “She would tell me, ‘I want to understand what’s going on in your head,’” Garza said.
Most recently, Cavazos worked at a nursing home. “My sister loved her geriatric patients,” Garza said. “She would call them her little viejitos, her little old people.”
In late June, as cases climbed throughout Texas, Jessica developed Covid-19 symptoms and subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. Cavazos chronicled her illness and that of her partner, Jennifer Torres, on TikTok. (Torres survived.)
Cavazos posted her last message on 4 July as she was hospitalized and struggling to breathe. She died a week later. In an email to the Guardian and KHN, a representative for her employer wrote, “Out of respect for the family’s privacy, we will not comment about her loss except to say the impact of it continues to be felt throughout the Briarcliff facility.”
At Cavazos’s memorial service, colleagues presented her 18-year-old son, Jayden Arrington, with the Nightingale Lamp, a posthumous tribute for nurses. Garza said that Arrington, a college student, is studying to become a nurse.
– Danielle Renwick
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: US healthcare workers have faced devastating losses amid PPE shortages