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One School Nurse's Perspective On The Pandemic: 'It's Been A Roller Coaster'

Emily Donati

New Hampshire's school nurses are among the people on the front lines of the pandemic. Emily Donati began working as a school nurse this year at Lamprey River Elementary School in Raymond. She spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello.Sign up for NHPR's coronavirus newsletter to get updates about COVID in N.H.

What's been the hardest part for you trying to do this job during the pandemic?

It's been a roller coaster trying to learn the basics of being a school nurse and on top of that trying to help the school navigate going back safely during the pandemic. So I kind of feel like I'm doing two jobs, the basic school nurse role and also pandemic consulting. 

And are you in the building or are you doing your working from home?

We have been in a hybrid model. Currently we're in a (hopefully) short duration of remote learning, but all through the fall we've been in a hybrid model. So it's less people in the building, but something as simple as a runny nose becomes more in depth than it ever would have been in the past.

Right, because who knows if it's a run of the mill runny nose or a symptom of something much more dangerous?

Exactly, so we have to take those symptoms very seriously and weigh every decision that we make very carefully. 

What can you tell us about the toll this kind of learning situation is having on kids?

When I see kids in my office, I see them doing really well with the masks and doing their best with the social distancing. I feel that they're happy to be in person at school, even if it looks very different. So certainly it is a hardship for all our families and our students and it's been a huge adjustment. But I've seen a lot of resilience in the student population and that's been really inspiring for me.

And have you spoken to school nurses from other schools? And if so, is there something that you've found that you all experience as school nurses?

Yes, I think we're all going through the same things. You know, trying to balance safety and learning and just a lot of pressure and a lot of weight with every decision we make. I think that's kind of the theme.

Can you tell me more about that weight?

It just feels like, you know, my previous inclination would be, if a student just has a mild illness, let's keep these kids in school, unless they're truly sick. But the script has really been flipped this year and we really can't have those mild illnesses in school and so every time a student is called down to my office, I really have to assess what's going on and make a decision, keeping in mind the safety of the students and the staff and also just the well-being of the families in the district and the students.

From a health perspective, given what you know about kids, what's one thing you wish kids or families or households were doing right now to increase everyone's chances of staying safe?

Just wearing their masks when they need to go out and staying home as much as possible and really limiting those unnecessary gatherings. And just modeling a good attitude for the young people, the kids and the students, because I think the way that adults handle and respond to this is very contagious and very visible to the younger kids and they will follow suit to how we react.

So when you say good attitude, what you do mean?

I hear a lot of, "Oh the poor kids, they have to wear the masks." But I think if we look at it from a different frame, it's great news that they're able to get to school in person at all this year. I feel that that's been a win. So just looking at it from that positive view of, you know, we're getting the kids in the building and trying to stay as safe as possible, and I think that's the best that we can do in this situation and I think coming at it from an attitude of positivity is just going to be better for everybody.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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