STUART, Fla. — For the first time since the start of the classes in Martin County, a school nurse is describing what it is like amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Jennifer Bracken, who has been a school nurse for 23 years, described what she is seeing, treating and her thoughts about the safety of students in schools.
Bracken is one of nine registered nurses who rotate between schools, but there are health assistants with backups in each school daily.
She is learning this year is all about being flexible.
"As a nurse, I think we're kind of ready to be around people who are sick and contagious, so we were ready for that. But even for us working in public health, we're not usually wearing masks and in personal protective equipment either, so it's a change for all of us," Bracken said.
The Martin County School District has quarantined 425 students since the start of the school year. Eighty-four students are still waiting out their 14-day quarantine for being possibly exposed to a student or staff member with COVID-19 symptoms.
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Despite the cases, Bracken said she feels "absolutely" safe going to work.
Despite the quarantine numbers, Bracken said the number of students she and other nurses are seeing in their clinics has not changed much from previous years.
"Our students more so are coming with the symptoms they always came with: headaches, stomach ache, nausea, maybe vomiting. Some of those things are due to anxiety and stress, but this year we have to look at them differently," Bracken said.
Bracken said she is seeing an average of two to three students each day with possible COVID-19 symptoms.
"Some kids have a lot of fear about it, at first, because it can be scary to look at someone standing in front of you with the full blue PPE with the gloves and their mask and their shield," Bracken said.
She said she is learning to ease student worries and adjust their approach to treating students who may have COVID-19.
"It did dawn on me that even in middle school, some kids are fearful to see someone to help them in that outfit. … We learn how to best approach them," she said.
Some students, she said, are coming to school feeling healthy, but experiencing a rapid onset of symptoms later in the school days.
But Bracken said there are still some students coming to school with symptoms.
Her biggest message remains one directed to parents, urging them to talk to their students to see if they feel sick before sending them to school.
"Listen to your kids and really take it seriously this year, even though in the past, you may have been stricter and made them suffer through it," Bracken said.