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How One School Nurse Prepares For Classes To Reopen Amid COVID Crisis

Amanda Zimmerman is a nurse at Fort Dodge Middle School
Amanda Zimmerman is a nurse at Fort Dodge Middle School

As some Midwest school districts open with in-person classes, school nurses face a big challenge. They play a crucial role in keeping kids safe from COVID-19. And they have to handle many other health issues. A middle school nurse in Fort Dodge, Iowa, explains how she’s preparing.

Transcript: "My name is Amanda Zimmerman, and I am a registered nurse here at the Fort Dodge Middle School, which is part of Fort Dodge Community School District. And this is my fifth year here.

"It's something different every day, never get the same thing twice with the kids. You know, we see not only medical issues but mental health issues, psychosocial issues.

"I know that our plan is to come back to school … I don't remember what the latest number is, but you know, we did offer an online option to parents and students that did not feel comfortable putting their kids to school. So we have that.

This is part of Essential Voices, a series of interviews with people confronting COVID-19.

"I'm excited. The kids need it. You know, there's so much more that goes along with school than just them being able to talk to their friends. Also it's keeping an eye on those kids that maybe don't get fed every day or maybe, you know, we have — Iowa has pretty high numbers for child abuse. And since the kids haven't been in school, they've seen those reported numbers actually go down. And it's not because the kids aren't being abused. It's because the staff who were checking on those aren't seeing them.

"So I'm super excited. I'm a little nervous. I think everybody is — but again, we put our plan in place hoping that we've created something to try to keep everybody safe.

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"Some schools obviously are checking everybody's temperatures, we're not going to do that. I would spend my whole day checking 1,200 kids’ temperatures, and probably be done in just enough time to start over the next day. But ... if a kid comes in sick, we do have some protocols set up for if they meet certain criteria, what we will do with them. It's increased cleaning, and again, we typically see 120 kids a day in the nurse's office. So that's going to change. They won't be able to just come to the nurse when they want. The teacher will send a request. One of the nurses will go gather four students at a time so two can wait in our waiting room. One can be in each of our rooms. That other nurse will be cleaning in between as those students leave. So it'll be kind of like a scheduled appointment … so that we're not overfilling the nurse's office with students at one time.

"Parents are really going to have to give us good phone numbers and extra people that we can call because not every parent works in town. Right? And we know that, but I can't have a child sitting in my office for an hour and a half this year, either, that might be symptomatic. So it's about ... who can the parents rely on? What can the staff do? Because obviously, our nurses' office is not super big. And so I don't have an area that I can let all these kids hang out sick, and even if I do, we don't know that they have the same illness. So it's really about trying keep kids separate, trying to do the best that we can even if we send them home, you know, a little early and we jump the gun. I think I'd rather send them home than have them stay and then infect another whole classroom.

"You know, I'm a little nervous because we've not done this before, but I think in everything that you do — if I was to start a new job — I'd be nervous, right? Because we all get that way when it's something we've not done. But I have a job to do. I'm a nurse, I know how to take care of patients. You know, this is what we go to school for. And so I'm not gonna lie and say I'm not nervous because I am a little bit, but I know that we've done the best that we can for our district.

"The school nurse’s job is not just to kiss boo boos when we fall down, right? A school nurse’s job is actually ... to do the best for the majority. And so with being in a pandemic, this is really looking at what's doing the best job that we can for the majority. And even if that means maybe a couple kids can't come to school because, you know, they're higher risk. It's what's doing the best for the majority of the district.

"I think everybody needs to just breathe. I think everybody needs to just take a deep breath and know that we're all in this together. And that there's so many unknowns still that we don't know and we can't fix it all or solve it all in a day. So everybody just needs to go in every day and do the best job that they can."

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media , a news collaborative covering public health.

Side Effects, WFYI and Indiana Public Broadcasting are asking Americans about health issues, as part of America Amplified: Election 2020. The public media initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, uses community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. Follow on Twitter at @amplified2020.

If you have a personal story to share from the front lines of this pandemic, wherever that may be, email health@wfyi.org.

Copyright 2020 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.