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Now Taking the Stage in the Pandemic: The School Nurse

The school nurses of New York City now have a whole new set of protocols, including careful guidelines about what to do if a student becomes ill during the school day with Covid-like symptoms. There are isolation rooms at every school, where they can evaluate sick students. The city has set up a situation room including the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the Department of Buildings, and the Test and Trace Corps.

If a student is identified as having possible Covid symptoms and sent home, Dr. Stephens said, the health department can verify whether a test is actually positive, and the tracers can reach out to see if there are close contacts and reach back to the principal to provide letters for the community.

This will support the school nurses, he said, “so they can do their job, which is complex.” They are also still responsible for caring for the children with all the regular problems. “The A.D.H.D. children still receive their medication; for the allergic and anaphylactic children, the EpiPen is there,” Ms. Braxton said.

School nurses often connect children to other services, Dr. Stephens said, because “people talk to the nurse,” and with all the emotional challenges facing children and families during the pandemic, from isolation to grief to economic stress, that takes on even more importance. Ms. Braxton told the story of a school nurse who had a child come in last week for an asthma treatment, only to start crying and say, “I lost my grandma, remember we used to always talk about my grandma all the time.”

Ms. Brown said that there are ways to channel the loss and grief to protect everyone, by “learning to love more, honoring our time together, and at the same time, to look at people and say, your mask is not on the right way — you want people to hear you, you don’t want people to disregard what you’re saying.”

“There’s parent anxiety, there will be parent and staff and teacher anxiety,” said Dr. Julia Potter, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center who is the medical director of the school-based health centers for the Boston Public Health Commission. “The nurses have to straddle both worlds, they’re living it and feeling it, and they have to respond, use science — they’ve been turned into experts overnight in their schools, which is a hard position to be in.”

“Nurses on school campuses end up being the point people for everyone, everyone asks them questions,” Dr. Stephens said. They need all the latest information, and they need backup. “I often find that school nurses are the best way to show what the health department does — our best ambassadors.”

“The children that came in this past week, they checked in with the nurse,” Ms. Braxton said. “They really are so happy to see their nurse, and their nurses are happy to see them.”

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