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Florida school nurses prepare on a 'take no chances' approach as back-to-school plans unfold

More students likely to be sent home
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Posted at 3:22 PM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-21 18:08:04-04

School nurses across Florida are preparing for what’s to come when you put thousands of students and staff together on a school campus during a health crisis the state has yet to get control over.

“We will see illness right away when we open our schools,” predicts Lisa Kern, Supervisor of Health Services for the Pasco County School District.

Kern is in the thick of preparing for what’s to come and some challenges are already clear.

“There are certain things that are hard to get. That’s a worry for me as a supervisor is making sure there are enough supplies to go around,” Kern said, but added she is prepared now with enough personal protective gear for her 45 registered nurses, 17 licensed practical nurses and roughly 90 clinic assistants.

While the district’s registered nurses each cover two to three schools at any given time, a clinic assistant is stationed at every public school in the district. But clinic assistants lack the qualifications to medically assess students.

Regardless, Pasco schools are taking a "no chances" approach when students return to campuses next month.

“Any kid with symptoms on that list from the CDC, we’ll be excluding from school. We’re not going to take any chances,” said Kern.

It’s a guideline the National Association of School Nurses is also recommending. As a result, President Laurie Combe anticipates more students being sent home from our nation’s schools than ever before, even if the student shows mild symptoms that could be associated with various conditions.

“I do because school nurses will proceed with an abundance of caution when they can’t determine another potential reason,” she explained.

This means students sent to the school clinic with a cough, stuffy nose or sore throat could face being isolated from class and sent home. Students who exhibit fevers will have to remain off campus until they’re fever-free for 24 hours, which has always been the case at schools.

The 24-hour guidance is a more relaxed stance than the CDC’s initial recommendation to schools that a student remain fever-free for 72 hours.

“We are going to be the frontline at every school,” explained registered school nurse Katherine Burdge of Hillsborough County. She also covers multiple schools at any given time.

While research shows kids are typically not impacted by coronavirus as severely as adults, recent data released by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) showed 1 in 3 kids under the age of 18 who were tested for the virus came back positive in Florida.

“I think we’re going to have our schools shut down once schools get started,” Burdge predicts.

Parents are advised to know their school’s COVID-19 plan, who will be conducting health assessments on campus and how. Combe also asks parents to be patient as school nurses and clinic assistants on campuses prepare for what they can only predict is coming.

“They will be making hard decisions, they will be making decisions that families are unhappy with. It’s a time for us to ramp up our kindness bc we’re about to face a difficult moment,” Come said.