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N.H. Health Department to update school nurse policies after state labor investigation

N95 masks are used both as dust masks and as medical equipment.
N95 masks are used both as dust masks and as medical equipment.

State health officials are updating their mask guidance for school nurses dealing with cases of COVID-19 among students. The update comes after a New Hampshire Department of Labor investigation found that the state’s health guidance for schools did not align with the latest federal recommendations for healthcare workers.

The new updated guidance will likely reflect the CDC’s and FDA’s directives for healthcare workers to wear N95 masks when in contact with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.

Some districts already provide N95 masks to school nurses and teachers who request them, but the supply and availability of those masks – which offer a higher level of protection than cloth masks – vary by district.

According to a report from the New Hampshire Department of Labor, issued last week, a school nurse in Concord told labor inspectors that she and her colleagues were buying masks with their own money, because the school wouldn't supply them with properly fitted N95s.

Concord Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said there were no N95 masks available in the fall, and the district was following the guidance of a medical consultant to provide disposable surgical masks and face shields, rather than the higher-quality N95s.

“We never received any recommendations around N95s, so all I can tell you is that we took the available guidance and deployed those protective pieces of equipment to our staff,” Murphy told NHPR.

In its investigation, the Department of Labor found that the Concord School District had not violated any labor laws, in part because it was following the guidance of a consultant from Concord Hospital as well as state health officials.

But it found that state health guidance for school nurses was incomplete and didn’t spell out the type of masks school nurses should wear. The state is expected to update its official guidance this week to align with the CDC and FDA, which say school nurses should wear N95s. The Concord school district said that, given these changes, it is distributing and fitting N95s for school nurses this month.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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