WPS nurses take leading role within schools during COVID-19

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Credit: Sidney O'Rourke

The Wayland school nurses, along with the Wayland Health Department, have worked hard to ensure a safe school environment for students and staff alike. The nurses especially have done a lot of extra work to create the most protective scenarios possible for each of the schools. “There was a lot of planning that the school admin staff had to do, and us nurses had to help plan the safety protocols for each school, such as the hand-washing stations, mask guidelines, snack and lunch guidelines,” Wayland Middle School. nurse Laurie Hojlo said.

From the initial closing of WPS schools in March to the new hybrid model, Wayland nurses have worked behind the scenes to help ensure a safe learning environment for the student body. They have the important job of keeping the schools healthy with proper emergency equipment and providing information to any concerned parents, students or staff members.

The original shutting down process was quick and immediate after the positive COVID-19 cases in the Wayland schools forced them to shut their doors. For Claypit Hill Elementary School nurse Noreen D’Amico, the school’s closing was so unforeseen that they had to rush to get the students properly out of the building.

“[The closing] was pretty chaotic here because we had just begun to think about planning for a closure, and then it came on rather suddenly,” D’Amico said. “So there was a little bit of chaos to it, but we did the best that we could at the time, and we were able to get the kids out of the school as quickly as possible.”

The rest of the Wayland schools had a smoother closure with the announcement of the shutdown occurring after school hours. Now, due to careful planning on part of the nurses and others involved in contact tracing, the town is better equipped for the same occurrence. The new measures taken in case of an outbreak include an isolation room for each school, personal protective equipment and a plan on how to safely care for a suspected COVID-19 case.

“Now there has been a lot more planning involved in case there is another closure,” D’Amico said. “The school administrators and the health department have been working to develop really good plans if we have to do that again.”

Some of the Wayland school nurses began in the summer to create plans for reopening that would help prevent future outbreaks through instituting safety protocols. Those included handwashing stations, mask and snack and lunch guidelines. The rules that was created for each school came from a meeting at the Town Safety Building with the Wayland Health Department that the WPS nurses also attended.

“We participated in each of our own school’s health and safety presentations, where plans were presented and the staff could ask questions,” Wayland Middle School nurse Laurie Hojlo said. “All this [was] on top of the usual planning and organizing for the first days of school. So we [were] busy for weeks before school started.”

Now that Wayland is in the hybrid model, the school nurses have a larger role in keeping up with both COVID-19 worries and continuing to fill other aspects of the roles of their jobs.

“I imagine that most of my day may be devoted to answering COVID-19 questions,” D’Amico said. “We’ll still be seeing kids who need routine care as well, so we have the medical waiting area for kids with COVID-19 symptoms, and then we have this side of the health room for kids with routine care.”

Hojlo noted that she expects to see fewer students during hybrid learning in general, which shift what day-to-day routines are for school nurses.

“The days have been a little quieter in the health room, as there are fewer kids here on a given day,” Hojlo said. “Some kids and staff are nervous to come to the health room because they are worried about sick people being in here.”

Heather Yates, a nurse within WPS who has worked at all five schools, believes that nurses will have a more administrative role as hybrid continues. Nurses now need to answer parent emails and questions about exposure, quarantine and testing, while also ensuring that all kids are up to date with their flu shot, as students are required by the state to get it this year.

“Also this year, which is unique, all students need to have a flu vaccine, which doesn’t sound very complicated, until you have to track down 500 to 800 kids’ immunization records,” Yates said. “So this will be the first time that we’ve ever really had to do that as a district, so that’s going to be complicated.”

With Wayland’s delayed start, the nurses and Wayland Health Department had more time to perfect their plan for hybrid, which the nurses hope will appear better in the long run.

“I think it was a smart thing to wait and see how other districts did it and to learn from their mistakes,” Yates said. “It gave us a whole other month to plan and get the building in shape and get our protocols in place, and even just for contact-tracing and all of that, it gave us more time to build up our nursing staff.”

Due to the work that the Wayland nurses have been able to do leading up to reopening, students can now come back safely and finally begin to enjoy the benefits of in-person school again.

“The school kids are very happy to be back and seeing their friends that they probably have missed over the past several months,” Hojlo said. “Helping the students maintain their social distancing with frequent reminders has been challenging, [but] the kids seem to be adapting to wearing masks better than I expected.”