With more school districts considering in-person learning, keeping students and staff safe on campus will be more challenging, but also more important, than ever.
As a resource education nurse for the state's largest school district Christine Mahoney is busy. "This week is a big week for us," Mahoney said.
Preschoolers and students with special needs return to Mesa Public Schools this week and modified in-person learning could start as soon as September 14.
"Tracking health offices for what we see is needed for isolation, PPE needs, heightened alerts for what we need as kids are coming and going, and also signage," said Mahoney. "Right now, the entire school community is going to be on the front lines."
Districts have a clear directive from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. Treat any symptom not linked to an underlying condition as a potential symptom of COVID-19. They are to separate that student or staff member immediately and send them home for potential isolation or quarantine, in line with county and state guidelines.
"That is a really hard statement to say because of course we are talking about kids who seem to spend the first three months of the school year with cold symptoms," said Dr. Peggy Stemmler during an August 5 webinar for schools throughout Maricopa County. Stemmler is a contracted consultant with Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
The Mesa district has nearly 50 nurses on staff, but as a member of the School Nurses Organization of Arizona, Mahoney knows not all districts are equipped to handle the anticipated surge in student visits.
"Arizona is a state that does not mandate who mans your health office or what kind of staff you have to have in your health office," Mahoney said.
With so many school sites, Mahoney and others in health services are getting creative. In some cases, using old garment racks and shower curtains to create added layers of protection and physical distancing in health offices across the district.
"We really are here to protect everybody in the school setting. All of the students, the families the staff," she said. "The most important thing right now is to mitigate the spread of this."