The Guardian has reported that 210 U.S. nurses died of COVID-19 from March 1st, 2020 to February 28th, 2021. Their age at death was available for 208 of them. Using a current U.S. Life Table, I estimate that these 208 nurses lost approximately 7,460 person-years of life. If, on average, the working life of a nurse is 80% of their remaining life, these 7,460 person-years translate into 5,968 lost working years.
What is the effect of these lost working years on patients? If a nurse has six patient-contact hours per day and works 248 days of the year, then the annual patient-contact hours would be 1,444. By multiplying 1,444 by the 5,968 nurse-working years lost, we can estimate the number of patient-contact hours lost; it is 8,617,792. Given this, approximately 8.62 million contact hours were lost to patients because of these 208 nurses’ deaths.
It is clear that many patients will bear the consequences of these 208 deaths. Now, think about how many more nurses were not on the Guardian’s list and add the other medical professionals who have direct contact with patients and also contracted and died of COVID-19 while trying to treat it. It adds up to a lot of lost patient-contact hours due to COVID-19 deaths inflicted on people who were trying to help.
For those not familiar with the concept of person-years of life, consider 100,000 people aged 15 for whom a life table shows that they are expected to live to age 80, on average, giving each of them 65 years of remaining life. For the 100,000 as a whole, they have 650,000 person-years of life remaining. If they all died today, then this cohort of 100,000 would experience 650,000 person-years of life lost.
Applying this concept to the age at death of the 208 nurses in conjunction with a current U.S. life table, I created Table 1, which shows, for example, that a person aged 25 is expected to live 58.21 years. Multiplying 58.21 by the 11 COVID-19 deaths to 25 year old nurses, (the approximate average of those aged 20-29 when they died,) yields 640 person-years of life lost for that age group. Applying this same approach to the other age groups and summing the results by age yields an estimated 7,460 years of life lost to these nurses. If we assume that 80 percent of these years would be working years, then there were 5,968 working-nurse years lost.