With Schools & Universities Reopening During a Pandemic, School Nurses Are the Ones Keeping Us Safe
By: Hannah Metwally
As summer comes to an end and the novel coronavirus continues to upend the ways in which we live, several countries have been faced with a difficult question: should schools and universities allow students to return for in-person classes? This has been the center of many conversations these days. Although children and younger adults seem to have milder symptoms of COVID-19, an outbreak among students could spread the infection to more susceptible populations of the community. At the forefront of this debacle are school nurses. In this upcoming academic year, they will be confronted with unprecedented challenges.
School nurses have always played an important part in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the public. They give vaccinations, educate our youth on healthy habits, and so much more. Often, their efforts go unnoticed, as one school nurse expressed, “it’s weird that it takes a pandemic for people to be like, ‘oh, look at that, what you do is useful.” However, this upcoming academic year, school nurses have more pressure than usual to maintain public health. With all the added challenges that the novel coronavirus has brought, one nurse stated, “ I do feel the weight of the world and the weight of my community as we return to school.”
In some countries, there is a huge shortage of school nurses. For example, less than half of the schools in the United States have a full-time nurse. In several communities, school nurses have to monitor the health of multiple schools. That could result in the management of hundreds and even thousands of students. One nurse explained this shortage by saying, “a lot of people have an assumption that there’s a nurse in every building every day, all day, but there really isn’t.” Many school nurses worry that they will not have the capacity to address all these new challenges, with one expressing this sentiment by saying, “I’ll have to go to these schools and assess every sniffle and sneeze that could potentially be a positive case. I just don’t know if I can do it alone.” Since the pandemic, there have been greater attempts to hire more school nurses, but the issue lies with the salary. Nurses tend to have higher pay working in a hospital than at a school or university.
Additionally, some schools and universities lack the much-needed testing equipment, which results in school nurses having to send students home for mild symptoms, like a headache. The flu season will make life even more difficult for school nurses, as the flu and this novel coronavirus share a few symptoms.
Project COPE knows that the experiences of school nurses will vary, as some schools remain open, some schools alternate between virtual learning and in-person classes, and other schools have closed their doors. The challenges that school nurses are facing are diverse and complex, which is why we hope that #schoolnurses will share their stories with us so that we can gain a better understanding of the issues that they are facing now in order to be better prepare for the next pandemic. We are so thankful for all the work that school nurses do to keep our communities healthy not only during this pandemic but all the time!
Leys, Tony. (2020). Nurses at Reopening Schools Brace for ‘Uphill Fight’ to Keep Students Safe from COVID-19. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2020/08/15/school-nurses-brace-uphill-fight-against-coronavirus-pandemic/3343902001/
Levin, Dan. (2020). Nurses Are on the Virus Front Lines. But Many Schools Don’t Have One. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/20/us/schools-reopening-nurses-covid.html
Lombardo, Clare. (2020). Overwhelmed, Stressed, Scared: School Nurses Brace for the Fall Semester. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/07/31/896767422/overwhelmed-stressed-scared-school-nurses-brace-for-the-fall-semester