Health agency: COVID-19 hitting health workers hard in Americas

The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas is unprecedented, an official with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said today in a press conference. And nowhere has its impact been bigger than in the healthcare workforce.

PAHO Director Carissa Etienne, MBBS, MSc, said that nearly 570,000 healthcare workers in the Americas have fallen ill with COVID-19, and more than 2,500 have died. Overall, there have been almost 13.5 million cases in the Americas and more than 469,000 deaths.

Meanwhile, the outbreak in India continues unabated, South Korea is battling a second wave of infections driven largely by people older than 60, and European officials are warning about a resurgence of the virus across the continent.

The pandemic's global total is now at 25,842,561 cases, with 858,552 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard.

High infections, deaths in healthcare workers

In her press briefing, Etienne said that while the United States and Brazil still have the most COVID-19 cases globally, and infections are rising in the Caribbean, cases are stabilizing and decreasing in parts of the region, including Central America and South America, where Chile and Uruguay have flattened their curves.

"Despite these hopeful trends, the human cost of this pandemic remains unacceptably high, with almost 4,000 deaths a day our region," she said.

Focusing on the pandemic's impact on the healthcare workforce, Etienne pointed out that the Americas region has the highest number of infected healthcare workers in the world.

"In Canada, health workers represent more than a quarter of all reported COVID-19 cases, while in the US and Mexico, which have some of the highest case counts in the world, health workers represent one in every seventh case," Etienne said.

Etienne noted that nearly three-quarters of the healthcare workers diagnosed in the region are women. "These numbers are alarming, and they beg the question: why are so many health workers becoming infected?" she asked.

Among the reasons Etienne cited is that many healthcare workers were redirected to outbreak response without sufficient training to protect themselves early in the pandemic, when hospitals were overcrowded with COVID-19 patients, and the supply of personal protective equipment was low or, in some countries, nonexistent.

Etienne also said that healthcare workers in the region are dealing with the mental and psychological aspects of the virus, with surveys showing that many feel anxious, depressed, isolated, and ostracized. Dozens have reported being assaulted, she said.

"For all of this, when we have an effective vaccine, health workers must be at the front of the line—together with those most at risk of severe COVID-19—to receive the vaccine," she said.

COVID spikes in India, resurges in South Korea, Europe

India continues to see the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases, reporting 78,537 new cases yesterday, with 1,045 deaths. The country's total case number is now at more than 3.7 million. The biggest contributor to the surge in cases has been large cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where millions live in densely packed slums. But the virus has also spread into smaller cities and more rural areas of the country.

Despite the surge in infections, the government is still going ahead with plans to ease restrictions, the BBC reports. Gatherings of as many as 100 people will be allowed at cultural, entertainment, and sports events, and subways will reopen in big cities.

In South Korea, the Korea Centers for Disease Control yesterday reported 267 new infections, bringing the country's total to 20,449 infections, with 326 deaths. After curtailing the spread of the coronavirus for several months and being held up as a model for the rest of the world, South Korea's daily caseload of new infections has been in the triple digits since Aug 14.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters that 40% of new cases are in people older than 60, according to Reuters. He also said the government is scrambling to add hospital beds because of concerns that many of the new cases could be severe.

In Europe, where new COVID-19 infections are again on the rise in several countries after trending downward for much of the summer, the European Union (EU) today warned countries not to reduce the 14-day quarantine period for those who've been infected. The warning from the head of the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) came after Germany said last week that it planned to shorten the quarantine period, a move that has also been made by Norway and the Netherlands.

Reuters reports that Andrea Ammon, MD, told EU lawmakers that this week's data showed there were 46 cases per 100,000 people across Europe. "We are almost back to numbers we have seen in March," she said.

Among the European countries seeing a surge in new infections are Spain, Russia, France, and Ukraine, CNBC reports.

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