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School Nurses: Care, Compassion, Contact Tracing

Tue, 12/29/2020 - 19:07
Barbara Tracey, left, is the East Hampton Middle School nurse.
Durell Godfrey

Being a school nurse has always been a mixture of care, compassion, and common sense. Now, you can add "contact tracing" to that list.

"That's a whole different ballgame from what we usually do," said Lorraine Talmage, who has been a nurse for 51 years, and a school nurse at East Hampton High School for 26. "We do a lot of our own contact tracing. We find out a lot more than the Department of Health does sometimes. . . . It can be long and tedious, but it's just part of my job."

Her counterpart at East Hampton Middle School, Barbara Tracey, agreed that the role of a school nurse is much, much different nowadays -- for instance with tasks like taking students' temperatures in the morning as they arrive at school, double-checking attendance lists to make sure quarantines are being observed, and doing home visits to check on students who are having trouble.

"I guess it's more difficult in that you have to be very vigilant about what's going on," Ms. Tracey said.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, these nurses have been a key part of the structure of safety that has made school one of the safest places children can be these days. Research has shown that very little virus transmission is actually happening in hallways or classrooms.

As health care professionals, Ms. Tracey and Ms. Talmage said they aren't worried for their own safety while in school. They know what precautions to take, and they follow the science. Ms. Tracey said there may be a silver lining in the darkness of the pandemic: mask wearing and hand washing are part of a greater awareness of public health and hygiene that will also prevent the common cold and other issues.

"My job is to keep the kids in school and keep them healthy. I do everything I can to get the kids to adhere to the protocol, and they're all very good," Ms. Talmage said. "The community has to adhere to the protocol, too. Everybody should be wearing a mask and social distancing, just like the scientists are saying. . . . I know everybody's bored and apathetic, but it's the only way it's going to work."

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