Media Release

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 6, 2021) – National Nurses Day is observed annually on May 6th. Today, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) honors the contributions and commitment of public health nurses, and the vital role nurses continue to play in Oklahoma’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

May 6th is also the first day of National Nurses Week, which concludes on May 12th, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, who is recognized as and the founder of modern nursing. Thanks to her strict use of hand-washing and hygiene practices while caring for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, Nightingale and her helpers reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% — ushering in nursing as we know it today.

“Public health nurses are the backbone of our agency,” Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said. “We are proud to stand alongside these brave women and men who stepped up to the plate to tackle COVID-19 response. Before much was known about the virus and safety precautions, public health nurses met the challenges head-on, because it’s their duty and calling to protect the health of their communities.”

According to Assistant Deputy Commissioner Mendy Spohn, in the beginning of the response public health nurses were among the first to handle specimens, conduct testing centers and trust PPE recommendations to protect themselves and their families.

“Public health nurses have stood calm and steady during this unprecedented time of uncertainty and confusion, while providing education and prevention recommendations to hundreds of thousands of people across Oklahoma,” Spohn said. “They walked each COVID-19 positive person through quarantine recommendations while answering questions on how these individuals could keep their family members safe. They got to know whole families affected by this virus and mourned with them as family members died.”

“Public health nurses also took the brunt of public backlash and responded with the utmost professionalism and grace,” Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed said. “These true heroes of public health have stood tall and met the challenge of mass vaccinations with success and pride. They have worked sometimes 70-hour weeks since March 2020 without a break and are still there on the front lines finding unique ways to reach all of Oklahoma with vaccine.”

OSDH has set a goal to provide 3 million vaccine doses to Oklahomans by Memorial Day (May 31st). Please visit oklahoma.gov/covid19 for more information.