Hundreds of health care professionals have died from the coronavirus. Here are some of their stories.

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A group of nurses sits on a sidewalk in late April shortly before sunset. They are holding candles. When 136 people from around the world have joined the vigil by videoconference, they light their flames for Celia and touch them with a wick.

Two days earlier, Celia Yap-Banago died alone in her room weeks after treating a suspected-19-year-old patient at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo. Celia was not only a registered nurse who allegedly celebrated its 40th anniversary the profession that month. At 69, she was the figure of the mother of 4 North, with a simple voice, slightly inappropriate and curious, the cardiac telemetry unit that had become an overflow service for patients with covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“I just wish …” said Jenn Caldwell, a nurse at Research who spent years working alongside Celia after the wake up. “I wish things had gone very differently. “

But instead, Celia left, one of hundreds of American health workers – not only nurses and doctors, but also EMTs, paramedics and medical technologists – who died fighting a virus against which humans have no known immunity. There is no official count of their deaths. More than 77,800 have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 400 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recognizes that it is a significant undercoverage. The nation’s largest nursing union, National Nurses United, puts the total much higher: 939 deaths among health workers, according to chapter reports across the country, social media and obituaries. Nurses account for about 15% of these deaths, said the union.

Celia Yap-Banago and her husband Amado have planned to travel to their native Philippines next year to renew their vows to celebrate 35 years of marriage. “We had everything planned,” said their son Jhulan. (Jhulan Banago)

And these are perhaps only the first victims, with new cases of coronavirus increasing in parts of the South and the Wild West and the possibility of a second wave of pandemic in the fall.

Colleagues of those who died were left not only to manage grief, but a mixture of anger, frustration and fear. After all, health care is as much a vocation as a job for many of them; during a pandemic, learning that a co-worker or relative is infected or worse means an almost daily calculation – not only with one’s own mortality, but also with a growing feeling of helplessness.

“It has been more important than anything I imagined,” said Lilian Abbo, an infectious disease specialist in Miami who, in January, began advising Jackson Health System on how to prepare for the virus. “We have worked so hard for so many months. But we are not gods. “

Just showing up for work can mean playing with your life and the odds increase when masks and other personal protective equipment become difficult to obtain. At the end of January, Nurses United sent a letter to hospitals asking it to increase stocks of PPE, such as N95 respirators and eye covers.

“We recommend that the hospital get ready now,” the union wrote Jan. 24 to HCA Midwest Health, a branch of the national conglomerate that runs the Research Medical Center.

Four months later, a nationwide shortage of PPE has become one of the most inflammatory side effects of the pandemic. Healthcare workers held protests to honor their missing colleagues and to demand that their employers – and President Trump – provide additional equipment. Some hospitals have disciplined workers who flout equipment conservation policies: a Chicago nurse with asthma said in a lawsuit that she was fired after warning her colleagues that she thought the masks provided by his hospital was not adequate; in California, 10 nurses were suspended after demanding protective gear (then reinstated after union intervention).

In Kansas City, some of Celia’s colleagues and family members believe her death could be attributed to Research’s decision to carefully control access to PPE, and some nurses say staff discourage asking for it. According to interviews with hospital staff, protective masks and other equipment were removed from nursing stations and stored in a conference room on the first floor.

HCA Midwest spokeswoman Christine Hamele said the system followed CDC directives to keep the equipment while facing an uncertain future.

“We knew that our need for PPE far exceeded the supply and we could not predict how long the pandemic would last or how long it would take to get supplies,” Hamele wrote in an email statement to Washington. Post. “A central location and the process for PPE is the best industry practice. “

The workers said that when they needed items, they had to provide their full name and ID number alongside the request. As the virus spread and workers’ schedules became chaotic, some did not worry.

“We get such a hindsight that sometimes you don’t feel like it’s worth saying anything, because no one is listening and no one cares,” said Charlene Carter, nurse overnight at Research. “You want to defend what you know is right, but you know you are going to be reprimanded in one way or another. “

Nurse in charge of the Research Medical Center, Charlene Carter, warned her colleague Yap-Banago to be careful with a patient whom she suspected of having covid-19. All three are said to have the disease; only Carter survived. (Christopher Smith for The Washington Post)

On March 22, Carter’s patients included a woman whom she suspected of having covid-19. Before going home that morning, she told the nurse that she would be relieved to be careful and wear protective gear. A few days later, Carter and Celia would both be positive for the coronavirus. Carter, 36, has recovered. The patient and Celia did not.

Now Carter is with his colleagues on this dimly lit sidewalk, and soon this vigil begins to take on a feeling of protest. Caldwell looks into a camera and swears that Celia’s death will not be in vain. Carter challenges other nurses to fight for what they need.