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Oakland plans to put nurses in schools to curb COVID-19

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Health and education officials in Oakland County proposed on Thursday a $2 million initiative to send 58 nurses to public schools this summer to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, if and when students return to buildings in the fall.

The Oakland County Health Division and Oakland Schools said the Oakland Together School Nurse Initiative, which needs funding approval by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, aims to give students, parents, school faculty, and staff confidence that they will be safe when schools reopen.

The state has not decided whether Michigan's 1.5 million students will return to school buildings this fall. All K-12 buildings in Michigan remain closed to instruction due to the pandemic.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has appointed 25 members to her COVID-19 Return to Learn Advisory Council to formalize a process for determining how schools might be able to reopen in the fall.

Oakland County officials said the school nurses will provide communication, training, consultation and recommendations to school districts when students return for classes. The Health Division plans to hire the nurses to work with schools through December, Oakland County Executive David Coulter said Thursday.

“We know the concern the virus has caused among students, parents, school faculty and staff,” Coulter said. “We are working closely with our partners at Oakland Schools to provide prevention strategies that will allow our schools to resume the important work of educating our young people. We want everyone to have confidence we are doing everything we can to provide a safe and healthy learning environment.”

Wanda Cook-Robinson

Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent of Oakland Schools, said the partnership comes at an important time for education and families. Cook-Robinson said Oakland County has 28 districts and 400 schools buildings.

"It feels good to have some good news to share with superintendents, schools and staff. We are excited ... this will help bring some calm to the craziness of the last several months," Cook-Robinson said. "Now we have to look to the fall and how we are going to deal with his pandemic as we move to reopen schools."

Cook-Robinson said districts across the county are trying to figure out how to bring students back safely but the logistics of taking temperatures at high schools with 2,000 students or reducing bus loads from 60 students to a much smaller number remain undetermined.

Countywide guidelines for schools are expected to be in place by June 30, she said.

The county Board of Commissioners is expected to consider the request when it meets in two weeks, Coulter said. Funding would come from the federal CARES Act. The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

Leigh-Anne Stafford, Oakland County health officer, said the goal is to have all the nurses in place by Aug. 1 or sooner to begin training. 

Stafford said there won't be one nurse for every school but one for every district.

Nurses would meet with individual districts to update them on COVID-19 activity in the community, provide prevention strategies for high-risk children and connect parents to additional resources as needed, Stafford said.

Students would be instructed on social distancing strategies, hand-washing, health screening and planning for what may come next in the pandemic.

Nurses would assist school districts in creating and implementing health screening protocols, identify and create sick/isolation rooms, create educational messages on the importance of prevention and staying home when sick and provide access to COVID-19 resources for students, parents, teachers and staff.