Atlanta school district to hire epidemiologist among 26 new COVID positions

Atlanta Public Schools allocated $750,000 in federal funding to hire 26 staffers, including an epidemiologist, to assist with the district’s COVID-19 response.

The positions will support school leaders, nurses and other “individuals who are boots on the ground dealing with Covid every day in our schools,” Katika Lovett, assistant superintendent of student services, told school board members in September.

The new roles include five help desk operators, who principals can call when they have questions about COVID-19 protocols; 20 case investigators, who will work with schools to conduct case investigations and help notify those who have been in contact with someone who tests positive; and a district epidemiologist.

The move indicates that while schools have reported a drop in cases in recent weeks, the district still wants help with the extra work brought on by the pandemic.

APS will be the first large metro Atlanta district to hire its own epidemiologist. The Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett school systems rely on county health departments, school nurses, committees and other administrators to do those tasks.

Atlanta district officials expect it will cost just over $113,000 a year to fill the epidemiology post.

APS wants someone who will work with school nurses, administrators, public health agencies and the district’s data team. The epidemiologist will support the district’s COVID-19 testing program and contact investigations.

Candidates should have a master’s degree in public health, health sciences or a related field and at least three years of experience in a public health setting as well as prior work in a school district, according to the job description.

Valencia Beckley Hildreth, the district’s health services director, said a trained epidemiologist can take “a better pulse of what our district needs” when it comes to COVID-19 and other health conditions that students face such as asthma, diabetes and obesity.

The person will help make decisions about how APS should respond to cases and help determine if there’s an outbreak, she said.

Colin Smith, a clinical assistant professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, said that to be effective, the person APS hires must be in regular contact with the county health department to coordinate efforts.

“This is something new. If they are actually looking to hire a district epidemiologist themselves, that shows they’re being serious,” he said.

APS reported 60 cases among students and staff last week, though most schools closed for fall break for two of those days. That count is down from a high of more than 400 cases recorded by APS for the week ending Aug. 27.