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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Middle Valley Elementary School nurses Beverly Stone, left, and Starla Terry.

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Hamilton County Schools nurses

Tummy aches, blood sugar dropping and paper cuts — you name it, and Middle Valley Elementary School nurses Beverly Stone and Starla Terry can give you a story.

The two registered nurses and friends worked full-time for more than 20 years at area hospitals and have continued to have their hands full each school year. But this year is quite different.

With coronavirus on the forefront of everyone's minds when it comes to school reopenings; nurses like Stone and Terry are taking on new roles to ensure student and community safety.

The two — both in their 13th year with Hamilton County Schools — launched the Hamilton County Board of Education COVID-19 Call Center in March to answer employees' questions regarding COVID-19.

Today, the center's staff has increased to about 10 people and one supervisor who works at the St. Elmo-based office while everyone else works remotely. At its peak, the call center can receive about 75 to 100 emails and calls daily, with inquiries ranging from what to do about possible exposure to people seeking more information about the viral respiratory disease.

The nurses' days are sometimes split between the campus and call center. From 7:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. weekdays, the part-time nurses are on campus seeing an average of 35 to 40 students a day. Depending on whether they are on schedule for the call center that day, they'll go home and work remotely from 4 to 8 p.m. weekdays or 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends.

"I think knowing that you are able to help the kids as well as the families during difficult times when they're sick or not feeling well or even when things aren't going well at home and it keeps you going knowing what you're doing is helping somebody else," Terry said.

Stone added that dealing with the calls takes a lot of effort as "there is so much misinformation and so much fear."

"A lot of times we had to calm their nerves and give a lot of facts over what they heard. That has been rewarding," she said.

'NOT JUST ICE PACKS'

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guide to reopening schools, administrators should encourage students and staff to practice preventive behaviors. Part of the guidance is to implement social distancing, masks and hand hygiene.

In Hamilton County, enrollment numbers total more than 42,000 students with about 15,000 who signed up for remote learning.

Since Aug. 31, the district has followed its Phase 3 schedule, meaning every student who enrolled for in-person learning is expected to attend school five days a week and follow the normal bell schedule. There are approximately 27,000 students enrolled for in-person learning districtwide.

At Middle Valley, there are about 700 students enrolled overall, with a few hundred students who opted for virtual learning, Stone said.

NATIONWIDE NURSING STAFFING:

35.3% of schools employ part-time school nurses (< 35 hours)

39.3% of schools employ full-time school nurses (> 35 hours)

Across the country 25.2% of schools did not employ a school nurse

Source: National Association of School Nurses

With as many students as they see a day, there has been an increase in how many students they send home.

"Usually if we know it's something that they can stay at school for, we would send back to class; that's not the case anymore," Stone said. "Parents coming back to school sending their babies, these kids are their heart. For us to be able to reassure them that we are taking every precaution and that we are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe has been one of our big[est] jobs this year. Not just ice packs, Band-Aids and medicine."

The school's clinic has taken extra measures by placing dividers and spreading chairs to accommodate social distancing. The nurses also added personal protective equipment to their work clothes while on campus. They also tell students coming into the clinic to keep their mask on until they are seen.

As of Friday, the school has not reported any COVID-19 exposures.

A March 2 Washington Post article highlights the shortage of school nurses nationwide. The article attributes a study by the National Association of School Nurses that claims 25% of schools nationwide do not employ a nurse, while 35% employ part-time nurses.

In Hamilton County, there are 99 school nurses within its 79-campus district, officials said, adding that there are 77 full-time and 22 part-time nurses.

In Middle Valley, Stone and Terry work part-time on campus and sometimes overlap each other's schedules to accommodate tasks. Both are aware of the nationwide shortage and how other school districts like in Agawam, Massachusetts, are hiring paramedics to fill in vacancies.

"Just hang in there," Stone advises school nurses throughout the country. "Things are going to get better; it would smooth out. We are all in this together."

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her at @MoBrandNews on Twitter and Facebook.

Students Q & A:

Q: I'm not feeling well, what should I do?

Stay home. Call your school to let them know you won't be attending school on-campus, and tell them if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Then, use the Student Return to School Decision Guidance, to determine when to return to school.

If you get tested for COVID-19, notify your school immediately. Then follow-up when you get the results. Send test results to studentcovid@hcde.org.

Q: I just got tested for COVID-19, but I don't have results yet, what should I do?

Stay home. Notify your school during school hours. Stay home until you receive results. Send test results to studentcovid@hcde.org.

Then use the Student Return to School Decision Guidance, to determine when to return to school.

Note: If you are quarantined because you are considered a "close contact" to someone that tested positive, you may not return to school for 14 days, even if you get a negative COVID-19 test result.

I was just notified that I tested positive for COVID-19, now what?

Stay home. Notify your school immediately.

During school hours, call the schools' main phone number. Find your school here.

After school hours, email studentcovid@hcde.org. Include your school name and contact information, including a call-back phone number.

You will not be allowed to return to school until you have been cleared by the Health Department and a School Health nurse. Send test results to studentcovid@hcde.org.

If you feel well enough, you may participate in remote learning until you are cleared to return.

Q: I was just notified that I tested negative for COVID-19, now what?

Notify your school during school hours and be prepared to show proof of your negative test result by sending the test result to studentcovid@hcde.org.

Use the Student Return to School Decision Guidance, to determine when to return to school with School Health nurse clearance.

Note: If you are quarantined because you are considered a "close contact" to someone that tested positive, you may not return to school for 14 days, even if you get a negative COVID-19 test result.

Q: I was just notified that I was a "close contact" of someone that tested positive for COVID-19, now what?

Stay home. Notify your school during school hours, if they are not already aware of the exposure.

Expect to participate in remote learning for 14 days, even if you get a negative COVID-19 test result.

If you begin to feel ill, speak with a medical professional.

If you choose to get tested, notify your school during school hours. Send test results to studentcovid@hcde.org.

You will not be permitted to return to school for 14 days, even if you get a negative COVID-19 test result.

Source: hcde.org

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