More than 2,900 U.S. health care workers died in 2020, Kaiser Health reports

More than 2,900 U.S. health care workers have died in the COVID-19 pandemic since March, Kaiser Health News (KHN) reported on Dec. 23.

The grim milestone comes nearly a year after the global medical community first received an alert about an unidentified cluster of a pneumonia-like illness that would later come to be known as the deadly coronavirus. 

KHN reported that the total number of health care worker fatalities included those identified by labor unions, obituaries and news outlets and online postings.

The findings come from data from a project by KHN and the Guardian called "Lost on the Frontline," consisting of data collected over the past nine months. 

A year into the pandemic, even as vaccines begin to be distributed to the public, doctors and nurses across the U.S. are becoming exhausted and demoralized as they struggle to cope with  a record-breaking surge of COVID-19 patients that is overwhelming hospitals and prompting governors to clamp back down to contain the virus.

In the year since the onset of the pandemic, more than 1.7 million deaths have been attributed to the virus globally and more than 339,000 Americans have died of the novel coronavirus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. 

The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on Jan. 21, 2020, according to Johns Hopkins. 

On March 31, as the virus rapidly spread across the U.S., the White House coronavirus task force predicted up to 240,000 total deaths from the virus. The U.S. reported more than 4,300 coronavirus deaths on March 31, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Frontline medical workers wait in line to receive the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 at the Virginia Hospital Center on December 16, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia.

The country has since surpassed the death toll estimate by White House health officials in March with more than 340,000 deaths, and counting, as of Dec. 30. The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. was 2,256.6 as of Dec. 29, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

By mid-December, five in every 100 Americans — more than 16 million — had been infected by COVID-19.

Many expressed frustration over some Americans’ disregard and even contempt for basic precautions against the virus.

Dr. Lew Kaplan, a critical care surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said health care workers are treated as "heroes" for helping patients but are seen as "close to evil incarnate" when they ask people to wear masks.

"It is very disheartening, while you are struggling to manage the influx of patients, there are others who won’t accept public health measures," said Kaplan, president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.