December 3, 2020

School nurses prioritize the safety of students with the reopening of school

Addie Schiller '22, Co-Features Editor

The medical waiting room serves as a place where symptomatic students can go before leaving school. It keeps sick kids separate from the healthy ones in an effort to make sure that students are able to stay safe while going to the nurse. Photo by Shari Johnson.

The Nursing department is at the forefront of creating new structures within schools to protect students and staff against COVID-19. This year, instead of dealing with the typical Epipen refills and ice pack handouts during the gym, the staff has had to redefine how kids “go to the nurse’s office.”

Throughout the spring and summer, all of the nurses in the district have worked together with other towns and the Massachusetts health department to try to make sure that all the buildings can open in a safe and healthy way.

Since the nurse’s office is a place where students in need of health assistance can go, this year some students are hesitant to go into their office out of a fear of germs. 

“If there are germs in the school, then [students think] they are going to be in our office, which I don’t think is true, but some people have that perception that this is the scary place to be… We got a brand new air filter system, especially for our office that filters the air even more, so we are one of the cleanest places,” said high school nurse Shari Johnson.

As a measure of safety, each school has implemented a “medical waiting room,” where students who present symptoms are required to go instead of the regular nurse’s office. Teachers who notice students showing symptoms are required to call the nurse to notify them that someone is showing symptoms when coming to their office. 

“To send someone down, you do have to call, and then the nurse can come up and get someone, or they have to go down. But, that’s the main difference, it’s no longer just a pass and send someone,” said Mr. Stephen Bresnahan, an English teacher at the high school.

The nurses meet symptomatic students at the door and check their temperature before sending them to the medical waiting room, and eventually, home. 

“When students come right into the door of the nurse’s office, we do an assessment of them to see if they are healthy and to see if they can go into the nurse’s office. If they are not healthy, then they would go into the medical waiting room. That is pretty standard throughout the district. Every school, including PAWS, has a healthy nurse’s office as well as a medical waiting room for anyone who does have symptoms. We may not know whether they have COVID-19 or not, but we just have to air on the side of caution,” said Linda Corridan, the director of nursing services for Wellesley Public Schools. 

So far, the nurses at the high school have not had to use the medical waiting room, most likely as a result of high school students checking their symptoms through a health survey before they arrive at school each morning. The medical waiting rooms have been used at the middle school and some of the elementary schools, where they do not require students to fill out the same health survey that high school students do. 

Students are still welcomed into the office for health necessities, such as taking their medicine or other health reasons, although the nurses are urging students and teachers to try to manage small treatments in classrooms, if possible. After a student leaves the office, the nurses sanitize all surfaces. Everyone is required to wear a mask at all times. 

The nurse’s goal in previous years was to keep and work with students to make sure they are in class as much as possible. Now, their goal is to make sure that every student is healthy and possible, even if that means they have to do school at home. The nurses even asked parents before school that students who are sick need to be picked up quickly, to ensure everyone’s safety. 

“Our practice has changed a little bit, but we still are public health nurses. This is a public health crisis and we are working on keeping everyone safe in the buildings and keeping the healthy people in the buildings and the sick people out of the buildings. Our goal is to work to keep everyone safe and healthy,” said Corridan.

Before the start of in-person learning on October 1, most students, teachers, and staff at Wellesley Public Schools got tested for COVID-19. The program was funded by Wellesley Educational Foundation and other foundations. 

“We tested 36,000 kids that weekend. We had one positive case, but other than that, out of 36,000 kids, that is pretty amazing,” said Corridan.

The Wellesley Public Schools are continuing their testing at the middle school and high school by providing every staff, teacher, and student an at-home kit that contains a vial that students just have to spit into and bring it to school to drop off. The school has already started with their staff. 

“Last week, we started testing again. That was phase one and our baseline testing. So, now we are doing surveillance testing. We did it with middle school and high school teachers last week. We did 400 and everyone came back negative again,” said Corridan. 

The district is hoping to continue this testing for everyone through winter break. 

The biggest issue in Wellesley regarding the spread of Coronavirus that the nurses have noticed is people not adhering to the required state travel regulations. Most states, including Massachusetts, have a travel law that requires all visitors and residents to quarantine anytime arriving into the state after leaving the state. The regulations are ever-changing.

“We are really encouraging everybody to go to mass.gov and look at the travel restrictions and follow those any time they travel. Especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up and weekends and sports, we want to make sure they are safe. We are telling people to follow the rules when they travel,” said Johnson. 

Note: This article was written prior to the decision from WPS to temporarily move the high school to a full remote model from November 12 to December 1.

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