Over the past year, many COVID-19 measures have been taken to keep students and staff safe in their learning and teaching environments. From mask mandates to social distancing to outdoor lunches, life at the high school has drastically changed.
Ever since the decision was made to go forward with a cohort-less system for the 2021 school year, the Wellesley Public Schools administration has been working to develop a plan to limit COVID-19 spread in schools, given that twice as many students will be in person this year than were last year.
Much of this preparation for the upcoming school year fell on the nurse’s office for the elementary, middle, and high schools, who used different state guidelines and baseline measures. Guidelines include number of vaccinations, pool and group testing, the “test and stay” program, and diagnostic testing. All of these guidelines can be found on the state’s covid website.
This year, however, is not the same as last in terms of COVID-19 protocol. The high schools surveillance testing program has been removed. According to the high school nurses Ms. Pamela Sheridan and Ms. Shari Johnson, this is due to the over eighty percent vaccination rate for eligible students and staff.
With all of these protocols going into effect this past year as well as this year, some key differences in the nurse’s office’s duties within the school can be noticed.
“We do things like facilitating in-school testing, writing protocols, and giving out masks, all things which we would not normally do in a year without COVID-19,” said Johnson.
With the constant implementation of new state protocols and removal of others, even more responsibilities are being placed on both nurses.
“It is pretty overwhelming in the sense that it is always changing and constantly evolving into different responsibilities on a daily basis,” said Sheridan. “Especially now that we have vaccinated people there is a new protocol to deal with, as well as state guidelines changing often.”
In terms of PPE (personal protective equipment) and other materials, both Johnson and Sheridan feel that the school district has succeeded in fulfilling their requests for equipment to keep them and others safe.
“We don’t really have shortages of materials as we have plenty of PPE and other protection. We also have testing kits that can be used on symptomatic and close contact cases within the school,” said Johnson. “The administration has done a good job in keeping us supplied.”
With COVID-19 entering the school environment these past few years, students had to be even more careful when deciding to come to school if they had an illness. As expected, the number of people entering the nurse’s office for illnesses decreased significantly since last year.
“This past year, a lot fewer kids came to the nurse’s office. Which also meant not as many were coming to school sick, which is a blessing,” said Johnson.
With less traffic, there comes more time to tackle other responsibilities, including the increased emails and phone calls the nurses use to notify students and staff about new guidelines.
“We did more emails and phone calls rather than specific visits to the office which took up most of our time last year,” said Sheridan.
While the impacts of COVID-19 were constantly felt throughout the past year, the school was able to take strides in bringing back normalcy for both students and staff.
“As the year went on, we were more diligent with our pool testing so that we didn’t have to go remote again,” said Johnson. “As well as sports being able to happen which is a huge part of students’ social and emotional health.”
As the world begins to return to normalcy, the nurses, as well as others, are looking forward to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I hate that I can’t read people’s facial expressions with masks. It is also hard to recognize kids, making it even more difficult to memorize 1500 students’ names. When it is safe to do so, I can’t wait to regain the personal touch that we all miss so much,” said Johnson.