TAMPA, Fla. — As medical workers across Florida continue to battle the spread of COVID-19, an unknown number of health workers here are falling ill to the virus. It turns out, while state leaders have publicly acknowledged the risk health workers and first responders are taking on the frontlines, the Sunshine State isn't tracking how many of these critical workers are contracting the illness.
In New York recently, an emergency room nurse died after losing her fight to the coronavirus. Since then, several media outlets have reported the deaths of doctors.
"It really is astonishing that we haven't asked that question a long time ago," said Martin Peebles, a registered nurse on Florida's west coast.
Peebles is also a union representative for his chapter.
"It's pretty obvious: how are you going to manage something if you're not tracking it?" he said.
Peebles recently spoke out about the desperate conditions nurses like him are facing with no end in sight.
"There's a lot of pressure on them to return to work, even though they fear that they may have it and they've been exposed," he said.
Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez addressed testing availability for health workers but made no mention of how many of them have tested positive.
"Health care workers are obviously at an elevated risk, so we want to make sure we have sufficient testing available," she told investigative reporter Katie LaGrone.
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently expressed his concern for health workers being exposed to the virus but couldn't add any details.
"I don't know how many of them have tested positive," he said. "I don't think it's been a lot that have come through our system."
On Thursday, the number of overall positive COVID-19 cases in Florida surpassed 8,000, more than tripling in one week.
"You just cannot avoid it as a physician," said Dr. Stephen Rosenberg, a South Florida dermatologist and former member of the Florida Board of Medicine. "Initially that would have been very helpful [to track] but right now with the number of cases, it probably won't make a difference. At some point, every physician will be exposed to someone who is COVID positive."