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As students return, Arizona school nurses handle coronavirus mitigation

(Mesa Public Schools Photo)

PHOENIX — Before the coronavirus pandemic, registered nurse Tammy Franklin already had a lot on her plate as the head of Lincoln Elementary School’s health office.

“I was responsible, of course, for taking care of bumps and bruises that occurred during the day up to more serious conditions — managing chronic health conditions of students here at school,” Franklin said.

With the help of a health assistant, she also kept track of immunization records, identified potential vision or hearing deficiencies and helped students get access to health care at the Mesa school.

COVID-19 has Franklin taking on more responsibilities.

Now, she’s helping to implement her school’s pandemic plan, educate teachers and staff about COVID-19 and teach students how to properly wash their hands and care for their masks.

She’s also doing things differently in the health office.

“We have separated the areas in which we place children to ensure a six-foot social distance,” Franklin said. “We have three cots, and we have curtains between the cots in case we have a symptomatic student.”

In addition, she’s trying to reduce traffic flow in the health office by asking teachers to handle minor injuries in their classrooms.

Christine Mahoney, a board member of the School Nurses Organization of Arizona, said school nurses across the Valley are taking similar steps.

“We’ve instituted physical distancing, we’ve instituted mask wearing, hand washing and hand sanitizing routines,” Mahoney said. “We have educational videos that will be playing during the morning announcements. We’ve sent information home to parents.”

School nurses have also taken on the responsibility of screening students for COVID-19 and doing contact tracing.

Like Franklin, other nurses are trying to limit how many kids are in the health office. They’re sending teachers first aid bags with bandages and gauze pads so they can take care of minor injuries, such as paper cuts, in the classroom.

Mahoney said school nurses typically do everything possible to keep a student in school unless they are very ill.

“This year it’s a little bit different,” she said. “If a kiddo is exhibiting any of the signs which could possibly be COVID-19 related and they cannot be ruled out with an underlying health condition, we are sending these students home.”

Mahoney said she does expect to see COVID-19 cases in schools. Multiple school districts and charter schools across the Valley have already reported cases.

“Our hope is that we will just keep those numbers low and make sure that what we’re doing and putting in place is helping to mitigate the numbers,” she said.

Mahoney added school nurses have expressed concerns about the coronavirus “but not so much for themselves.”

“For those of us that are a nurse, we know that this is kind of what we signed up for,” she said. “We have faith that we’re doing to the best of our ability what we can to promote health and to mitigate getting this ourselves.”

Franklin said she also isn’t concerned about getting COVID-19.

“When I first accepted this position six years ago, I was really concerned that I would get ill with stomach viruses or colds. And I really haven’t,” she said. “I take great care in infection control to protect myself regularly, even before COVID. So I don’t have concerns at this time.”

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