Feds provide $7.4 billion for public health; plan includes hiring school nurses

WASHINGTON — The government will provide $7.4 billion to expand the nation’s public health capacity by hiring school nurses to vaccinate kids and creating a service corps around health care as well as bolstering traditional disease detection efforts, White House officials said Thursday.

Biden administration coronavirus testing coordinator Carole Johnson said it’s part of a strategy to respond to immediate needs in the COVID-19 pandemic while investing to break the cycle of ‘boom and bust’ financing that traditionally has hampered the U.S. response to health emergencies.

“We really see this as funding that can help end the pandemic and help us prevent the next one,” Johnson told The Associated Press. The money was authorized by Congress in President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response law. Officials are now acting to pump it out to states and communities through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About $4.4 billion will go to immediate priorities in fighting the pandemic.

That includes $3.4 billion for states and local health departments to step up hiring of vaccinators, contact tracing workers, virus testing technicians and epidemiologists, who are disease detectives trained to piece together the evidence on the spread of pathogens.

There’s also $500 million for hiring school nurses, who could play a key role in vaccination now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been cleared for use by teenagers.

An additional $400 million will go to set up what’s being called the Public Health AmeriCorps, a service program that enlists young people early in their careers in public-spirited work. The goal is to build a structure to train and nurture young professionals interested in the public health field.

All told, the money is expected to support tens of thousands of new jobs over a period of five years, Johnson said.

Some of the money represents long-term investments. A pool of about $3 billion will go to create a competitive grant program allowing states and local communities to sustain their public health efforts after the coronavirus pandemic recedes.

“We need the resources now, but we also need to invest for the long-term in the public health workforce,” Johnson said.

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