School Nurses On Front Line of Pandemic

RMHS Nurses Working to Keep School Healthy

Mia Pantano ('21), Orbit Contributor

1,224 students.  One pandemic.  Two nurses.

     The RPS Director of Nursing Ms. Giuliana and RMHS school nurse Ms. Quinlan have one of the most difficult jobs right now as healthcare professionals at a public high school during a pandemic. Their office is the first place to go when a student comes down with an unknown illness, but they have adapted their methods to provide for students’ care even during this time of uncertainty. Their preparedness and commitment to their students’ health are what keep the doors to RMHS open during a school year unlike any other. “Starting full-time this year is definitely a 10 out of 10 in terms of difference,” Ms. Quinlan commented. 

     With COVID-19, they have faced significant challenges in seeing how the disease has affected the community. They see the impact of isolation from social distancing and quarantining. They also find it difficult to see students lose loved ones to the virus, as some have.  They see the toll it takes on their mental health. “Students and staff have tragically lost family members. School nurses have been assisting the Board of Health with contact tracing and reaching out to those affected by COVID-19. The guidance can be confusing and changes frequently, so we work hard to keep up. It’s difficult to hear how many families are dealing with this illness as well as other hardships from the pandemic,” said Ms. Giuliana.  

     Regardless of these challenges, the nursing staff has worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of students. They have enforced CDC guidelines as students have returned to the building, as well as taken extra precautions to ensure both their own and their students’ safety. Contact tracing has been extremely important for them this year, by requiring students to sign in to the building by using a QR code. Proper PPE has also been extremely important for them to be able to help students in the event they become ill while in school. This includes masks and face shields, gloves, and gowns, which they cite to be very grateful for.

It’s difficult to hear how many families are dealing with this illness as well as other hardships from the pandemic

— Ms. Giuliana, RPS Director of Nursing

      Ms. Giuliana and Ms. Quinlan wear masks at all times and maintain proper distancing to limit the possibility of spreading the virus within the health offices. In their office specifically, they have spaced the chairs in the waiting room and created an “isolation room” for sick visits. In classrooms, the nursing staff implemented desks to be stationed six feet apart, students and staff are required to wear masks at all times, and students must wipe down their desks with sanitizer before leaving their class.   

     Essentially, the key to being able to provide a safer environment for students is through communication. Ms. Giuliana and Ms. Quinlan ask students and staff who become sick to quarantine and call their doctor immediately, so they can then begin contact tracing in case the person’s test comes back positive. They are not able to diagnose their patients, so conversation between our school healthcare professionals and a physician or nurse practitioner is crucial to make the determination of testing a patient for COVID-19. Patients would then need their doctor’s clearance to return to school. The nursing staff notes that symptoms for the virus are often very mild, so they may send a patient home when in the past they could have treated the patient in their office.

     Ms. Giuliana and Ms. Quinlan are optimistic that RMHS will continue to be able to have students learning in person. While their main concern is students following the safety protocols correctly, they believe RMHS has done well in making our school a great place to learn, develop, and make connections despite the struggles of the pandemic. “I am hopeful for the vaccination program. It was just announced that teachers will be included in the second wave of vaccinations right behind front-line healthcare workers, and it is possible that we could see the program started as early as the week of December 14th, which I think has exceeded many peoples’ expectations,” said Ms. Quinlan.

     This year is Ms. Quilan’s first at RMHS, while Ms. Giuliana has worked in the Reading Public Schools for about 15 years. Despite this difference, they both cite similar attributes of our school that resonate with them. They are in awe of the resilience, dedication, and generosity displayed by the staff and the students. “Their wish to contribute to our school community​, either by noticeable contributions or caring for each other in small ways stands out to me,” Ms. Giuliana said. 

     Keeping RMHS healthy has and always will be their primary goal, and our school would not run as well as it does without their immense role. COVID-19 has affected everyone in the RMHS community differently, and the nursing staff is definitely no exception. But they have not let it stand in their way. They are ready to continue on with whatever obstacle they face. Ms. Giuliana said, “There is the isolation that comes from quarantine and remaining socially distant from others. The pandemic has had a huge impact on mental health. But I am hopeful we will move towards a ‘new normal’ post pandemic. It might take some time, but I believe 2021 will be a happier and healthier year for our community.”