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'This Is What School Nurses Signed Up For:' With Students Set To Return, School Nurses Prepare

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - With many children heading back to their classrooms in just a few weeks parents want to be reassured their child is going to be safe. That puts a lot of pressure on the school nurse.

School nurses have their traditional role of watching out for students with chronic conditions and the routine daily illnesses that crop up, now add to that a pandemic.

Nurse Lori Kelly is the President of the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and the nurse at North Allegheny Intermediate. She says nurses have spent the entire summer studying, reading, and attending webinars so they can be as prepared as possible.

"It can be overwhelming but this is what school nurses signed up for, to handle whatever is thrown at us."

The challenge of keeping COVID-19 out of the schools is almost impossible.

It's not like a child arrives at school with a sign around their neck saying 'I have COVID,' so how is a nurse supposed to know?

"I don't think we will all the time because a student could come in and be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic so there is the possibility someone could be in the building with COVID and we won't know it. But we'll depend heavily on the health department and the health department letting us know through their contract tracing if there is a student that's maybe at risk because of the contacts they had."

In many schools, a single nurse may be enough under normal circumstances but under the threat of COVID, "I think it's important for the school administration to work with the nursing staff to determine what the staffing needs are to best meet the students' needs in the school district."

Kelly says school nurses are in demand.

"I think we are seeing an increased demand and I think its in part due to a concern about substitute nurses. There is a concern amongst nurses that we might have to quarantine or isolate. Who steps in then? Many of the substitutes are older or retirees who may not want to work under the threat of COVID-19. So our concern is if we are out for illness or quarantine who will be available to cover our health offices and that's true across the state."

Nurse Kelly says they are going to have their hands full when the students come through the doors so the nurses are hoping for some help from mom, dad, or guardian at home.

WATCH: Nurse Kelly Hopes Parents Take Active Role

"I would like them to make sure their student is not ill, I would like them to check their child's temp, wash their hands, review the proper way to wear a mask, so the students are aware. I would like to see parents take a positive attitude. All the extra precautions that are taken because if the adults take a positive attitude and make the best of the bad situation students will do that too."

Many schools will be using temperature scans as the kids arrive at school but Kelly warns, "I can tell you that some students could be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic so they aren't foolproof in catching the students with COVID. When using those people need to understand that there are many students who are not going to have a fever so having those doesn't mean we're going to catch every student with COVID."

What keeps the school nurse up at night?

"The last thing I want to see is for one of my students or one of my staff become ill. And become ill to the level they don't recover well. I want to do my best to mitigate that risk the best I can."

As for her own safety, "Nurses don't think about that too much, it's what we signed up for," she said with a nervous laugh adding she does worry about bringing COVID-19 home to her family.

Up until now, it has all been about the planning.

She says nurses, teachers, and administrators are going to depend on parent and student cooperation. But as a nurse who's been in school nursing for 18 years has a lot of faith in the kids.

She says if the students understand the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing and what it means to their families and those they care about they will take it seriously and comply.

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