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Online Memorial Honors Filipino Health Care Workers Who Have Died Of COVID-19

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Jollene Levid has lost friends and family to COVID-19. She and other volunteers have been keeping track of Filipino health care workers who've died from the disease worldwide. Their website is called Kanlungan, which means shelter or refuge. It's an online memorial with pictures and stories of those who've been lost. Jollene Levid joins us now from Los Angeles. Welcome to the program.

JOLLENE LEVID: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So why don't you just start by telling me why you created this online memorial?

LEVID: So the first week of stay-at-home orders, I lost my aunt, who was a registered nurse. Her name is Rosary Castro-Olega (ph). And she passed away without being named, you know, for weeks. Two weeks later, I lost another aunt. They worked with my mother for 30 years in the ICU as registered nurses.

FADEL: So your mother is also a registered nurse.

LEVID: Yes. And as the days went on, we noticed that a lot of the health care workers - unless there were independent journalists covering their family's stories, we were unable to identify them. And so there were a group of us. We got together. And we started basically documenting everything we could find.

FADEL: You talked about how many people with Philippine ancestry were dying on the front lines as health care workers. Are they overrepresented in their medical industry?

LEVID: Absolutely. Here in California, 1 in 5 registered nurses is of Philippine ancestry.

FADEL: Wow.

LEVID: In New York - so now we're talking about two hotspots of the pandemic - 34.4% of all Filipinos are actually in the health care industry...

FADEL: Wow.

LEVID: ...In New York. So we're highly overrepresented in the health care industry because of historic exclusion except for health care professionals, for example, and educators that were allowed to migrate here.

FADEL: And that's why a lot of people choose this career path.

LEVID: That's correct. I know that in my family, there will be entire households that will save up tuition for one person to go through nursing school so that she can migrate abroad and support the rest of the entire family that's still back home in the Philippines.

FADEL: A main feature of the digital memorial are the numbers that you've collected. Can you tell us about the data you found?

LEVID: The United States has more than double the deaths of Philippine health care workers than the Philippines itself.

FADEL: Wow. That's quite shocking.

LEVID: It is. It is. And the second-highest number of deaths of health care professionals of Philippine ancestry is actually the United Kingdom, again beating out the Philippines.

FADEL: Outside of this site, are there really hard, fast numbers of deaths of Filipino health care workers, Filipinos in general and how they're impacted by this disease?

LEVID: There is a loose network of Filipino and Filipino American journalists that are attempting to collect numbers of all Filipinos that have fallen to COVID in the U.S. And in our research, we found a similar effort in the United Kingdom. But the Philippine government itself is not collecting those numbers where Filipino migrants reside. So, for example, the consulate here in the United States - their number is missing, like, half of the names that we've been able to collect.

FADEL: Oh, wow. Who knows how many stories you still haven't heard?

LEVID: Every single day, we're still combing the news. We're still checking to see if more testimony have been submitted by loved ones.

FADEL: That was Jollene Levid, founder of the website Kanlungan, which tracks deaths of Filipino health care workers. Thank you so much for coming on the program.

LEVID: Thank you so much for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.