School nurses have become the new heroes of our nation’s COVID-19 response. As school districts around the country pursue reopening plans that welcome students back into school buildings, school nurses will be the key to ensuring the coronavirus doesn’t spread like wildfire through halls and classrooms.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has plans to leverage school nurses as much as possible. Under the district’s reopening plan, nurses will help test more than 600,000 students and 75,000 staff members. But that’s not all; LAUSD school nurses will also be tasked with implementing contact tracing techniques.
However, given the major nurse shortage in the Los Angeles Unified School District right now, staff members worry if the district’s plans are realistic to implement. LAUSD school nurse Stephanie Yellin-Mednick explained that she treats the 2,000 students at her school by herself.
“But many elementary schools get a nurse one day a week,” she said. “Two years ago, I worked as a lead nurse out of the nursing office, and I covered five different campuses.”
How LAUSD Plans to Bring Back Students
In an article written in the Los Angeles Times in mid-August, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner wrote that his district “is launching a new effort that, with the support of three universities, a technology giant, innovative testing providers and health insurers, will provide a robust system of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing to serve all in the school community.”
According to Beutner, testing and contact tracing programs will be designed around the expertise of UCLA, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins University. His district will use Microsoft’s platform to manage and share all information.
“We are currently fine-tuning systems and operational logistics. Then we will begin providing tests to staff currently working at schools as well as to any of their children participating in child care provided for Los Angeles Unified staff,” Beutner explained.
The next step is to test all staff and students over a period of a few weeks to establish a baseline rate of infection. Sample testing will be performed regularly, and testing will be provided to family members of students and staff who test positive.
Of course, Beutner expects obstacles and acknowledges that his district’s pilot program won’t progress without difficulties.
“Test results might be late, students or staff might be absent on the day of testing at a school, contact tracing efforts might not reach every family. But if it works, it can be a model for other school districts and communities across the country.”
Beutner’s plan comes at the cost of $300 per student over the course of a year, but that’s a small fraction of the $17,000 the average Californian invests each year in education, Beutner says. He believes it’s a small price to pay to reduce the level of the virus so communities and schools can finally reopen.
School districts didn’t have the knowledge or capacity to implement such a sophisticated program in January and May, but he believes now is the time. If LAUSD can hire additional nurses and provide the support the nursing team needs to perform so many COVID-19 tests, the district’s plan could define what it looks like to return to school in the era of the coronavirus.