Portland nurses ‘urgently concerned’ about health in schools

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As COVID-19 cases surge in Oregon — forcing some of the state’s largest school districts to close last week due to staffing shortages — a letter from three dozen nurses at the Portland Public School District circulated over the weekend, in which they question the relative health and safety in school buildings.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on Monday that the nurses’ letter contends that the various mitigation layers that education officials are calling for — from ventilation to vaccination, proper masking to social distancing — are not being followed consistently.

“We are experiencing the worst outbreak of disease since the onset of the pandemic,” reads the letter signed by 36 registered nurses. “Messaging that schools are safe — without taking the steps to make them safe — does not keep children safe.”

In the letter, nurses described the scenes in schools “as crowded” with closed windows and where “masking is not of medical grade, children are testing positive at a rate that is too fast to track, the tests provided are expired, and staffing in every department is stretched too thin.”

Last week, a number of the state’s largest school districts — including Salem-Keizer, North Clackamas and Gresham-Barlow — closed due to staffing shortages and student absences, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. However, these districts announced that they are planning to reopen in-person this week.

Portland Public Schools has taken a building-by-building, day-by-day approach, with five schools closed on Friday and beginning distance learning this week.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been rising among children under age four and between the ages of 12 and 17.

Oregon health officials said on Friday that they are closely monitoring the trends in pediatric cases, which made up more than 20% of the state’s overall known caseload in the most recent reported full week that ended Jan. 8.