ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - As Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) gear up to enter Phase 4, school nurses are getting prepared too. They’re navigating a landscape that’s gone from bumps, bruises and daily medication to COVID-19 isolation rooms and daily health screenings.
Nearly a year into virtual, and more recently hybrid, learning, school nurses in the county have gone from seeing 40 to 50 students a day to one or two. It’s all part of a major role shift that has seen nurses go from on-site medical care to key coronavirus watchdogs.
Last March, when schools closed their doors for the rest of the year, nurses were left in a lurch. Woodbrook Elementary School nurse Pam MacPherson says that didn’t stop them for long.
“It totally changed because we were not in the building, nobody was in the building. Where the nurses really stepped up: We were all working from home, we really focused on the education piece,” MacPherson explained. “We put together various documents on mask wearing, and hand washing, and COVID ‘Mythbusters,’ because there was so much misinformation out there.”
When schools reopened partially, everything that they knew had to change.
“The biggest thing that was a challenge was physical space. I was very fortunate that I had this, my former clinic,” MacPherson said, speaking in what is now a room specifically for isolating symptomatic students. “I was able to use this just as the isolation room for anybody who has had symptoms of anything.”
Agnor-Hurt Elementary School Nurse Steve Floyd says that’s where things like hospital-grade air filters and added screenings help keep the students, teachers, and staff safe.
“(There) can’t be really another setting aside from the hospital where children are looked at and assessed every day by a healthcare professional,’ Floyd said. “So, between the parents eyes, and the nurses eyes, and the school staff, you know, not a lot of gets through.
Even something as simple as going to the nurse’s office for a scraped elbow has had to change – sometimes becoming contact-free. If Floyd is taking care of a potentially COVID-19 symptomatic student, another teacher or administrator may have to step in to help administer aid.
“While the main focus is coronavirus, we can’t take our eye off all those other things,” Floyd explained. “We will still have children with epilepsy, we will still have children with diabetes that we need to be very much aware of.”
The nurses have been rolling with the punches for the past year, but say the community doing its bit might be the most important part.
“We need to make sure that our parents avoid big groups of people and continue to wear their masks,” Macpherson said. “If somebody’s waiting at home for a COVID test, don’t send your kids to school.”