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COVID-19 infections among Canada’s health-care workers nearly double the global average

September 16, 2020 — One day ahead of World Patient Safety Day on September 17, 2020, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has released a report highlighting the alarming burden of disease and deaths from COVID-19 among nurses and other health-care workers (HCWs) around the world.

At the time of ICN’s data collection in mid-August 2020, there had been more than 20.7 million cases of COVID-19 reported globally, resulting in more than 750,000 deaths. Studying outcomes from its survey of 52 national nursing associations in 50 countries having high COVID-19 caseloads, ICN found confirmed COVID-19 infections among HCWs ranged from 1% to 32% of all cases, with an average rate of 10%. Across 44 countries, 1,097 deaths among nurses were reported, but given the relatively small sample of countries, ICN believes the actual number of deaths among nurses is much greater.

“The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the Canadian Medical Association have been working with the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) since this past spring to find and develop the data we need to understand the situation in Canada,” said Mike Villeneuve, CNA’s chief executive officer. On September 3, 2020, CIHI released its first report on COVID-19 Cases and Deaths Among Health Care Workers in Canada based on data as of July 23, 2020. CIHI found that, at 19.4% of the Canadian total of 112,672 cases, the proportion of COVID-19 infections among HCWs is nearly double the average found in the ICN report. Among the 21,842 HCW infections in Canada, there are 12 deaths reported. Villeneuve noted, “We believe that there has been one death of a registered nurse, one physician, and the majority of other deaths were among direct-care support workers and other team members including custodial staff. But the fact that we are not entirely sure tells us that we must further develop the data base to give us the granularity needed to disaggregate the data by type of HCW.”

The majority of countries in the ICN survey reported discrimination and even violence toward HCWs due to their association with COVID-19, and most also found mental health distress among HCWs working in the COVID-19 environment. Three quarters of countries did report that mental health supports and services for nurses are available. A minority (48%) of countries recognize COVID-19 as an occupational disease for HCWs and a similar number (45%) offer compensation after workplace exposure. See the full results of the ICN report.

CNA fully supports and endorses the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Charter on Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety. WHO will publish the charter on September 17, 2020. CNA joins ICN in calling on our own federal, provincial and territorial governments to sign on to the WHO charter and support the important work needed to protect HCW safety at the same time we all stand up for patient safety. “Every death of a nurse or HCW is one too many,” said Villeneuve, noting that some countries have much better outcomes than Canada. CNA will continue to urge governments and employers to follow the identified best practices – providing the necessary personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and all other public health measures to protect HCWs and reduce preventable exposure.

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About the Canadian Nurses Association
The Canadian Nurses Association is a powerful, unified voice for the Canadian nursing profession. We represent regulated and retired nurses in all 13 provinces and territories. We advance the practice and profession of nursing to improve health outcomes and strengthen health care for all people in Canada.

About the International Council of Nurses
The International Council of Nurses is a federation of 130 national nurses’ associations, representing the more than 20 million nurses worldwide – advancing the nursing profession, promoting the wellbeing of nurses, and advocating for health in all policies.

For more information please contact:

Eve Johnston
Media and Communications Coordinator
Canadian Nurses Association
(613) 282-7859
ejohnston@cna-aiic.ca