COVID-19 Deaths Among Nurses: US 91, Canada 0. Why?

| Educate!

Above photo: RNs affiliated with National Nurses United placed white shoes outside the White House, each pair representing a nurse lost due to insufficient PPE during COVID-19. | NNU via Twitter

There’s a yawning gap between the number of U.S. nurses the viral pandemic has killed so far in the U.S. and the number of Canadian nurses killed. The count as of May 11: U.S. 91, Canada, 0.

That prompted National Nurses United President Zunei Cortez, RN, of California and her Canadian counterpart, Linda Silas, RN, to meet each other via Zoom on May 11, with hundreds of nurses from both nations listening in, to discuss why.

And it all comes down to the fact, both agreed, that Canada’s nationalized health system, despite a large hole involving nursing homes, puts people – patients and practitioners – before profits, while the U.S. is the other way around.

The hour-long discussion reinforced, though neither nurse mentioned it, NNU’s long campaign for a Canadian-style single-payer government-run health care system, Medicare For All, south of the U.S.-Canada border.

NNU has picked up support from more than a dozen other U.S. unions, along with a majority of the House Democratic Caucus, led by Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and 17 senators, led by Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt.

Sanders made Medicare For All his top plank in his now-suspended Democratic presidential nomination campaign, repeatedly and delightfully telling all comers, “I wrote the damn bill!” And NNU was the first AFL-CIO union to endorse him.

By contrast, Canada’s national health care system, built province by province, has existed for decades and survived right-wing attempts to dismantle it, including in Ontario, home to 39% of Canadians.

“We know the (U.S.) hospital industry’s failure to provide us with personal protective equipment (PPE) is largely to blame,” Cortez told Silas and their colleagues. “You have a public health care system. We have deaths.”

But the U.S. death toll, which was 80,682 as of the evening of May 11 – out of 1.333 million people who have tested positive – isn’t solely the result of the nation’s health care non-system, Cortez admitted. GOP President Donald Trump, whom out of sheer distaste she did not mention by name, is also responsible, Cortez declared.

The president, she said, “is trying to move the agenda to save the economy rather than saving people’s lives.”

“First and foremost, we must protect public health,” Cortez declared. “Without public health, we have nothing.”

U.S. hospitals, she noted, seem not to realize that. They‘re now stockpiling PPE to prepare for the next wave of coronavirus cases and telling U.S. nurses to reuse their masks, an order that puts the nurses in further medical peril.

“Our question is: ‘If nurses are dying now, who are you stockpiling these for?’ Everything we’ve learned in nursing school” about proper care, hygiene and disposal of contaminated clothes, equipment, and goods “has gone out the window.”

Putting the economy first wasn’t the case in Canada, Silas said, at least initially. Ontario moved quickly into lockdown in January, though the Tory provincial government there is now backsliding. It dumped a requirement health care facilities “stop automatically providing PPE against airborne viruses — though they still provide the protection when people ask.”

Even so, Canadian health care workers sickened from the virus, though no nurses have died. Medical provider illness ratios range from 10% in Alberta and 14% in Ontario to 21% in British Columbia.

And unlike in the U.S., Silas noted, the provincial and federal governments listened to public health care scientists.

Silas too said the federal government of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which does not have a majority, but only a plurality, of House of Commons seats, is also under corporate pressure to reopen businesses. That’s though Canada had 68,848 people test positive for the coronavirus as of May 11 – in a nation with 37 million people, one-ninth the population of the US has had 1.348 million people test positive for the virus.

And 4,878 Canadians have died, according to a slide Silas posted while talking to the group. That puts Canadian illness and death rates per 1,000 people far below the U.S. ratios.

Like in the U.S., long-term care facilities are a particular coronavirus hotspot, Silas said. They’re also the one part of the nation’s health care that’s not in the national health system.

“I remember a national health inspector walked into the first nursing home he visited in Ontario, and he was shocked” by immediately seeing nine cases there, she added. One nursing home in the province has seen 30 residents and one doctor die.

Cortez used the session to again campaign for further PPE and protections for the nation’s nurses, including an emergency standard from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordering U.S. health care facilities to develop and implement airborne virus protection plans. And she said NNU is also lobbying for more federal funds directly for front-line health care workers, not just for their hospitals.

There is one other Canadian protection nurses have, Silas said, an absolute right to refuse to work in an unhealthy environment.  U.S. nurses, by contrast, have to lobby their bosses not to send them into danger. If the bosses do so anyway, nurses “have an ‘assignment despite objections’ form,” with checkoffs on why the nurses did not want to work in a particular assignment or ward.

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

  • 0040

    1. It is not proven that these nurses died of Corona virus . 2. Canada has 35 million citizens in much smaller centers while America has 350 million living cheek by jowl in a dozen large centers .3. In America 7000 or so people die every day . The media and medical industry would like to blame every death on Corona-virus . Profit and politics drive US thinking/response on every issue. if we can’t bomb the problem away we throw money at it.

  • Interesting starkly contrasted results between the for profit health care business and publicly funded health care for the sake of… health.

  • 0040

    Health care in both countries is dismal . But in America poverty is a crime while in Canada it is still an affliction.

  • didactic1

    American population

    1). Much bigger than Canada

    2). Given the degree of scale, nurse fatalities are small given amount of exposure

    3). American patients include a lower income group with poor health and lifestyle behavior. They normally make any hospital more dangerous than Canada’s, a nation that effectively blocks poor immigrants from nations with severe health issues. Again, the Canadian bourgeoise is smothered with kisses from the American upper middle class pseudo radicals.

    How surprising.

  • didactic1

    The class composition of each nation’s patients is apples and oranges. Perhaps Toronto will gladly take Detroit and Chicago poor?

  • didactic1

    Canada is puffed with greed.

  • 0040

    The global elites have been carving Canada up since the Mulroney regime, if not before , most if not all of that countries resources are now foreign owned. Lester Pearson was known as a politician who would crawl a mile to kiss an ass. During the Vietnam war LBJ is reputed to have slapped him around in a drunken rage at his Texas Whitehouse for speaking out of turn , about that fiasco. Before becoming Prime Minister Mackenzie – King was a Rockefeller lawyer. Instead of building the Panama Canal Teddy Roosevelt should have annexed Canada? Woodrow Wilson would have done America better service by seizing Canada while the English were fighting in Europe , proving the Monroe doctrine to be delusional when both Roosevelt and Wilson sent troops abroad on very thin pretexts..

  • Could you please redo some of this comparison. Basically units to units normed with numbers per something and percentages. I am normally good with this stuff but some of the construction is hard to make sense of.

    This part, between the double lines, totally threw me – what are you saying and please leave an parentheticals until after the statement.
    It should be something like –
    Out of the 37 million people in Canada 68,848 tested positive which is 1 out of every 537 people in the country. In the US with about 330-million estimated people 1.348 million have tested positive which is 1 out of every 245 people, more than double the rate in Canada (2.2 times more). [then, if you want, what was a parenthetical observation:] The US population is 8.68 times larger than Canada’s population.
    I shouldn’t, as a reader, have to stop that long to work that out. Most readers fly right on by and lose the information to an impression which could be anything.
    That’s though Canada had 68,848 people test positive for the coronavirus as of May 11 – in a nation with 37 million people, one-ninth the population of the US has had 1.348 million people test positive for the virus.
    And 4,878 Canadians have died, according to a slide Silas posted while talking to the group. That puts Canadian illness and death rates per 1,000 people far below the U.S. ratios.
    And please don’t tell me it was “far below” without also giving me the numbers directly. That is where I need to see the comparison but I have nothing to grasp.
    And if 4,878 Canadians have died of C19 then extrapolate that to a US equivalence such as: “this is equivalent to more than 42,000 at the USA’s population, except that the actual US total is now more than 81,000 or, a little less than twice the death rate in the US than in Canada. (Noting that the totals change hourly).
    Then there are the breakouts which include the differences between expected deaths and the actual numbers of death. It that varies largely, and is much larger than the added coronavirus deaths, as it does, this indicates possible C-19 deaths not counted as C-19 deaths.
    And any differences in the numbers of people afraid of going to hospital because of either financial fears and/or documentation fears (ICE). And on …

  • 0040

    Testing accomplishes nothing other than making one a target since Corona-virus is common and asymptomatic in most . Another tool of division , Us and Them. Reminiscent of forced drug testing by all government and corporate entities now taken for granted these days as a condition of employment , and simply supplies a new subset of people to persecute/scapegoat.

  • Dan

    Sad update: Mr. Brian Beattie, 57, is Canada’s first registered nurse to die from COVID-19 on Monday 11 May 2020. He worked at Kensington Village, a 76-bed long-term care facility in London, Ont., where multiple staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

  • RickW

    We have our 1st RN death….. 🙁

  • RickW

    Pretty well nailed it! People here say “government should do this, or that, or the other” and the only rational answer to these inane remarks is “why should they?” They’ve been bought and sold along with the resources.
    Jack Kennedy said in part: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”
    We here learned to loathe the word “hard”; the people by default, because our leaders know best – and in spite of the complaints, still do. And so, here we are, sitting atop a treasure trove of riches in king-of-the-hill style, while foreign interests and Quislings work away at the bottom.

  • Edge Bender

    Here’s just another example of intelligence with no impact at the halls of authority, which are proven to be rigidly determined to destroy all humanity’s relationship with the natural world, by means of total indifference among those only profit-motivated and morally bankrupt.