TAMPA, Fla. — Here we are. Back to school amid an ongoing, changing and wildly stubborn global health crisis.
This year, we can say school nurses have been here before.
"They know what to do, so it's a matter of just carrying on and having those mitigation policies in place," said Linda Mendonca of the National School Nurses Association.
By now, COVID-19 protocols are well established on school campuses.
Personal protective equipment is in full supply, but school nurses in Florida are feeling "a little frustrated and overwhelmed," explains Katherine Burdge, president-elect of the association's Florida Chapter.
For one, most schools in Florida still don't have a full-time registered nurse on campus. Less trained, licensed practical nurses or clinic aides fill some of the gaps which can leave RNs splitting their time across multiple schools.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, schools should be equipped with one school nurse for every 750 students. In Florida last year, the number of students to nurses was 2,475 more than triple the federal recommendation.
Burdge, who is a full-time registered nurse for the Hillsborough County School District in Tampa, is in charge of three schools.
"It's going to be a tough year," she said.
Along with the ongoing nurse shortage, health pandemic and more contagious Delta variant that appears to be impacting children at higher rates, Burdge expects school health workers to also be caring for an influx of medically fragile students.
Last year many medically compromised students opted for e-learning to reduce their risk of being infected with the coronavirus. This year, districts eliminated e-learning as an option, forcing many students who can't enroll in virtual school, to return back to the classroom.
"Last year we saw a little lower caseload as far as our medically fragile children, more COVID-related last year. But this year we're going to be dealing with everything," Burdge said. "It's a lot."
Still, with COVID cases surging among children, Burdge said school nurses will err on the side of caution, which will likely mean more calls home. She asks parents for patience, to keep sick children home.
As for masks, Burdge said it's a personal choice, one she recently made for her own family.
"My children are wearing masks and I am as well, just to protect everyone," Burdge said. "I am nervous about the mental health and stress on everybody, the burnout, being tired of the word COVID and having to deal with it all."