Role of school nurses expands during pandemic
Oversee medical waiting rooms for those with symptoms
THERE ARE A MULTITUDE of reasons to go to the school nurse — a scraped knee, an asthma attack on the playground, a case of chickenpox, symptoms of the flu, a nap for a migraine. Students go to the school nurse for physical, mental, and emotional support.
Now, with 70 percent of 400 districts planning to return to school fully in-person or in a hybrid model, you can add to the list keeping the pandemic at bay, and guiding parents through new health protocols.
State education officials say that schools must have a designated medical waiting room for students who display symptoms of COVID-19, including fever and cough. The waiting room is intended to keep them separate from others until they can be picked up by a parent.
A recent guidance from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education suggests school nurses work with local boards of health to develop procedures for several scenarios regarding the designated medical waiting room. These can be staffed by school employees who are CPR/AED certified.
Nurses’ offices must also make sure school staff members are trained in the donning of personal protective equipment and the safe disposal of it, and the placement of hand sanitizer stations around the school (in public spots because they’re alcohol-based). If the school has access to rapid testing, they’re in charge of that, too.
Patricia Comeau, a Methuen school nurse and spokesperson for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said she is expected to trace students’ coronavirus symptoms, communicate with local boards of health, and follow up on vaccine records. Parents were tying up her phone lines with questions about COVID-19 and the new flu mandate even before the school year started.
At McKinley Middle School, a Boston public school for students who have psychological issues stemming from trauma, one school nurse told WBUR there are several reasons why he doesn’t believe city schools can reopen safely under current guidelines. He cited concerns over air circulation in the buildings and no plan to test all students and staff for COVID-19 before school starts.With all the new tasks, some school nurses have pushed for a remote start to classes, citing lack of funding and staffing shortages as key issues that need to be addressed for things to run smoothly.
In Agawam, which is reopening under a hybrid model, the town is collaborating with the Agawam Fire Department and its paramedics to help school nurses. “Unfortunately there is only one nurse and two screening areas,” said Alan Sirois, chief of the Agawam Fire Department to WWLP. “So, at this point, we are staffing all eight schools, four days a week, with paramedics in those screening areas.”