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April 16, 2020, 12:51 p.m.
Reporting & Production

Lost on the Frontlines wants to memorialize (and count) the health care workers who’ve died from coronavirus

The joint Guardian–Kaiser Health News project also wants to include other hospital staff, home health aides, and nursing home workers. “This data set is the first of its kind in its comprehensiveness, and it’s not tracked anywhere else.”

Last week, The Guardian’s story about Frank Gabrin, the first emergency room doctor to die from coronavirus in the United States, pointed out a chilling fact: We don’t know how many frontline workers are dying from the virus, or the rate at which we’re losing them.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, among health care workers, there have been 9,282 confirmed cases and 27 deaths as of April 9. But Kaiser Health News, USA Today, and even the CDC itself have all said that number is a major undercount because of the way testing varies in each state.

And while those numbers are bound to rise and be disputed, it won’t change the fact that those people are more than a statistic; they lost their lives in trying to save others. That’s why The Guardian partnered with Kaiser Health News to keep track of those health care professionals and pay homage to them.

The Lost on the Frontlines project, launched Wednesday, is a series of profiles of deceased frontline workers, like J. Ronald Verrier, a surgeon in the Bronx, or Daisy Doranila, a nurse in Kearny, New Jersey.

Jane Spencer, deputy editor and head of strategy for The Guardian (and a former Nieman Fellow), said that part of the effort will be crowdsourced. They’ll ask people to fill out a Google Form with the information about the deceased and a reporter will get in touch to report out what happened. This method serves two purposes: as a digital memorial of the people who were lost and to identify larger trends in health care across the country. Reporters will also exhaust traditional reporting methods to find as many cases as possible.

“We were moved by the extraordinary sacrifices frontline health care workers are making to keep the rest of us safe in the pandemic and deeply troubled by the reports of the lack of protective gear available in hospitals and in other health care settings,” Spencer said. “So we wanted to find a way to tell the story about the additional burden faced by health care workers, and we thought that creating a nationwide database would allow us to identify patterns and how the pandemic impacts health care workers and shed light on both the workings and failings of the U.S. health care system in this crisis.”

For now, the project is available on both The Guardian’s and Kaiser Health News’ sites, but it will eventually be developed into its own site as a comprehensive interactive. Spencer said one of the eventual goals is to be able to determine their own count of how many health care professionals died due to the virus. Such a database doesn’t exist for the public yet. (It’s one of a number efforts by news organizations to assemble their own databases on important coronavirus issues.)

“We’re using a very inclusive approach to the data set,” Spencer said. “In addition to doctors and nurses and the people we think of as frontline health care workers, we also want to include hospital cleaners and home health aides and nursing home workers. This data set is the first of its kind in its comprehensiveness, and it’s not tracked anywhere else.”

On April 1, Medscape launched its own initiative to track health professional deaths during the pandemic. There are already 10 pages worth of names.

Spencer said that the stories from the project will be available to local news outlets to republish for free. They’ll also link out to local stories and translate select stories for ethnic media outlets.

Lost on the Frontlines was partly inspired by a previous Guardian project, The Counted, a national database that tracked the number of people killed by police officers in the United States. Spencer said The Guardian reached out to Kaiser Health News to collaborate and pulled the project together in a little over a week.

Over the last few weeks we’ve written about the coronavirus web traffic boom (and its burst). But John Hilkirk, senior enterprise editor at Kaiser Health News, said that interest in these types of aftereffects stories has been consistent among their audiences.

“The concern about frontline health care workers has just been incredible,” Hillkirk said. “Despite the fact that the story has gone on, there’s a lot of outrage and a lot of concern about lack of personal protective equipment, and then just the tragic nature. It’s such a dramatic and sad story. I don’t think people are losing interest in it.”

Illustration by Lydia Zuraw/Kaiser Health News.

POSTED     April 16, 2020, 12:51 p.m.
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