Nov 15, 2021 - COVID

COVID contact tracing overwhelms Ohio schools

Magnets on a school locker in the shape of a contact tracing chart.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Ohio's school nurses are working around-the-clock to keep up with COVID-19 contact tracing, with several local districts hiring help to ease the burnout.

Why it matters: If a student's family isn't notified quickly about exposure, the potentially infected child could risk infecting others at home. But with only so many hours in a work day, nurses have to work after-hours or spend less time on other responsibilities to keep up.

  • Local health departments have typically done disease contact tracing in schools but are also overwhelmed with other cases.

What's happening: Columbus City Schools hired 32 nurses through staffing agency ProLink Healthcare that started this month. The district is prepared to spend up to $4.6 million in federal COVID relief funds for the extra help this school year.

  • Other local districts tell Axios they've also hired more staff, such as nurse's aides, but on a smaller scale.

Flashback: Last month, Columbus nurses protested outside a school board meeting to draw attention to their workloads.

  • Jaqueline Broderick Patton, a nurse and the district's wellness coordinator, tells Axios they're hopeful the new hires will help.

What they're saying: "Even just one case means a couple of hours of work," Kelly Wagner, president of the Ohio Association of School Nurses and a middle school nurse for Delaware City Schools, tells Axios. "One day I had five cases. That took me nine hours."

By the numbers: As of Thursday, Ohio's schools have logged 67,418 cumulative COVID cases among their 1.7 million students this school year.

  • Columbus, the state's largest district with about 46,000 kids, reports 852.

The bottom line: We're not math teachers, but that's a lot of hours of contact tracing.

What we're watching: While Ohio's cases trended downward in October, they appear to be on the upswing again this month.


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