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The architecture of the California workers’ compensation system will be changing to favor compensability for health care workers’ who contract COVID-19 from exposure to patients on the job. The number of cases that will follow is difficult to estimate. However, an estimate by an international organization of nurses paints a stunning picture of the size of potential claims.

The International Council of Nurses is part of a global voice that has been speaking for nurses around the world for 120 years. The ICN represents 130 national associations and more than 20 million registered nurses.

ICN claims that more than 600 nurses worldwide are known to have died from COVID-19, which has infected an estimated 450,000 healthcare workers.

The death toll among nurses more than doubled in the past month from 260 on May 6, according to its figures, which are based on data from more than 30 countries.

“In the last two months, we have seen the number of deaths of nurses as a result of coronavirus around the world rise from 100 to now in excess of 600 and we think worldwide the number of healthcare workers who could be infected by the virus is around 450,000,” Howard Catton, chief executive officer of the Geneva-based ICN, told Reuters Television.

These are numbers that keep going up,” he said.

The pandemic’s true cost among health professionals was not known, the association said, renewing its appeal for greater protection for them and systematic collection of reliable data.

On average, 7 percent of all cases of COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are among healthcare workers, which means that nurses and other staff are at great personal risk “and so are the patients they care for”, it said.

Extrapolating from more than 6 million reported cases gave its estimate of some 450,000 infections among healthcare workers.

Infection rates among healthcare workers vary greatly between countries, with fewer than 1% in Singapore and more than 30% in Ireland, it said. Spain and Germany have recorded low numbers of fatalities among healthcare workers despite large outbreaks, it added.

“Why do the rates of deaths among nurses appear higher in some Latin American countries?” it asked, referring to the region that the World Health Organization (WHO) says has emerged as the new epicentre for the pandemic.

“Why are some countries reporting disproportionate deaths among black, Asian and minority ethnic HCWs (healthcare workers)? This is an issue raised directly by the Philippine Nurses Association to ICN, concerning Filipino HCWs in the UK,” it said.