CDC Estimates of Nurse & Healthcare Worker COVID-19 Cases Are Likely Understated

Last Updated/Verified: Nov 13, 2020

How Many Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Have Coronavirus?

NOTE: In this analysis, we have shown that most states (including NY & NJ) do not report healthcare worker coronavirus infections and the last CDC estimates are woefully outdated. In any given state, 7-26% of coronavirus infections are healthcare workers. Healthcare workers are putting themselves at considerable risk of infection as they protect us from coronavirus and we should quantify just how many are getting sick.

With the spread of the coronavirus devastating our health and economy, healthcare workers are our first and perhaps only line of defense. Each day nurses, doctors, technicians, janitors, and clerical workers go to work and make sure people get treatment. We choose a nursing career to help those in need of care and pandemics are unfortunately things we must get accustomed to.

While we've celebrated the bravery of healthcare workers in this crisis, one critical status has largely been obscured -- just how many healthcare workers are contracting COVID-19. We'd go so far as to say that the government reporting on coronavirus among healthcare workers has been absolutely atrocious. Only 10 states regularly report healthcare worker coronavirus cases and the CDC's last estimate was on April 9th, which seems like an eternity ago when it comes to this virus.

So, we thought we'd do a little data-sleuthing and looking at state reports on coronavirus cases among healthcare workers in places where that data is available. Which states have the most cases, what percentage of total cases are healthcare workers, and can you estimate the total number of healthcare workers in the United States with coronavirus?

We found just 10 states regularly update the number of healthcare workers that have contracted COVID-19. Of these states, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have the highest rates of healthcare workers with coronavirus. On average, 10.9% of all cases of coronavirus are among healthcare workers, with some states like New Hampshire and Maine being over 20%.

And just how many healthcare workers have coronavirus? According to this analysis, an estimate of around 168K, a figure that is more than 18 times higher than the CDC's last figure.

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Across the country, healthcare workers and watchdog groups have bemoaned the limited data availability of coronavirus infections among healthcare workers. After all, how can we protect our frontline defense against the virus when we don't measure whether they are being adequately safeguarded from the virus?

Luckily, ten states regularly publish how many coronavirus infections have befallen healthcare workers. Some of them do so on a daily basis, others weekly or more sporadically.

The staff here at RegisteredNursing.org analyzed the numbers of COVID-19 infected nurses and healthcare professionals according to state and CDC records.

States with the Most Nurse & Healthcare Worker COVID-19 Cases

Bar graph showcasing states with most nurse and healthcare worker COVID-19 cases

California leads this sample of states with approximately eight thousand coronavirus cases. It's worth noting, however, that New York and New Jersey do not report coronavirus cases among healthcare workers, and they likely have many more given how prevalent the virus is in those states.

What percentage of people who get coronavirus are nurses and healthcare workers? Next, let's compare the number of nurses and healthcare worker infections with the total number of coronavirus cases in each state.

Percentage of Nurses & Healthcare Worker COVID-19 Cases per State

Bar graph showcasing states with most nurse and healthcare worker COVID-19 cases by percentage

In New Hampshire and Maine more than 20% of the coronavirus cases are among healthcare workers. Part of this reason could be that healthcare workers are more likely to have access to these tests than the general public in these states. In Pennsylvania, just 7.2% of the coronavirus cases are healthcare workers.

Across the country, how many healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19. Unfortunately, the data provided by the CDC is extremely outdated and likely understated. On April 9, the CDC estimated there were 9,282 coronavirus cases among healthcare workers. Clearly this statistic is no longer relevant as in just the ten states in this analysis there are approximately 22K cases.

What's the better estimate of the number of coronavirus cases among healthcare workers in the United States today? Well across our sample of ten states, 10.9% of total coronavirus cases are healthcare workers. If we apply that percentage to the total number of coronavirus cases in the United States as of May 19th (1.54MM known cases) we come to an estimate of approximately 168K coronavirus cases among nurses and healthcare workers today.

CDC Estimates of Nurse & Healthcare COVID-19 Cases Are Likely Understated

Bar graph showcasing CDC estimates of nurse and healthcare worker COVID-19 cases being understated

Given the prevalence that 10.9% of coronavirus cases in our sample are healthcare workers, a better estimate of national healthcare worker cases in a country with over 1.54MM total cases is around 168K. This is a far cry from the CDC's estimate of nine thousand cases in early April. Clearly it's time for the CDC to update their data.

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