In the past year, school nurses have been vital to keep schools open in the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to their typical duties, Spring Hill ISD nurse Jaymie Walton said even more duties were added in the past year.
Today is National School Nurse Day, which shows appreciation to school nurses across the state and nation.
In a typical year, school nurses keep track of immunization records, perform vision and hearing screenings, assist students with scrapes and injuries and take care of children’s chronic conditions in their day-to-day needs.
But Walton said the pandemic has presented unique challenges to nurses this year, one of the biggest being contact tracing related to COVID-19.
“All the pandemic-related things required of nurses this year has been an extra full-time job on top of what we generally do in a day,” she said. “When we started planning last summer from what the (Texas Education Agency) was telling us, there would be information that we would just collect, then we would send it off to the health department and they would handle contact tracing and that sort of thing. That did not end up being the case, so it was a lot more involved for school nurses in terms of contact tracing.”
The process for contact tracing was timely and didn’t include just interviews and taking someone’s word, she said. Nurses would conduct a rigorous interview of the person who tested COVID-19 .
It also has presented challenges from parents, and she said more understanding could help school nurses.
“We’re not targeting their students. Our goal is not to punish that student. Our goal is to keep everybody safe,” Walton said of nursing during the pandemic. “I know when parents are looking at those situations they’re looking at it at how this is affecting their child, and understandably so, I do the same thing as a parent. But understanding that, as a school nurse, we’re not just responsible for their child, we’re responsible for the other 2,000-plus students we have within the district. We’re responsible for the hundreds of employees in the district.”
She said nurses have to follow guidelines that were written for them, and there has been understandable frustration from parents when their students needs to be out of school, but directing that at nurses makes it difficult for them to do their jobs.
On top of that, nurses started performing COVID-19 screenings as well. Walton said Spring Hill ISD chose to start testing asymptomatic students and staff after the government released updated quarantine guidelines.
“If we had somebody that was in close contact and they had finished five full days of quarantine and could provide us a negative COVID test, they could come back as long as they weren’t showing any symptoms or having any fever,” she said. “What we found was that it was very difficult for students and staff in our community to find someone that would test them if they were asymptomatic, so it was difficult to try to get those people back earlier because there was no place that would test them in town.”
All the testing and contact tracing meant nurses were at a higher risk of exposure this year, which caused some concern.
Walton’s father has lung cancer, and her mother has chronic lung issues, and that caused her extra worry in regards to possibly exposing them to the virus.
“I know my nurses on every campus have someone they were concerned, with family members, and health issues that they were dealing with. So, yes, of course that was the concern,” she said. “But it’s not something that’s unusual I think for nurses just because of the nature of what we do. It’s something that we’re used to kind of dealing with, and you have to balance that concern with understanding that this is my job, and this is what I need to do to keep my kids, my staff, my students as safe as I possibly can.”