MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For weeks, Minnesota school nurses have been on the virus front lines as most students are back in their buildings.  The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a challenge while still juggling other illnesses and symptoms.  Two school nurses gave WCCO some insight into an unprecedented year.

From the sniffles to sore throats, Anoka-Hennepin’s Director of Nursing Cynthia Hiltz explains how symptoms are examined much more closely this school year.

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“People don’t come in with I have COVID across my head it’s really hard to determine what’s going on,” Hiltz said. “It’s not a road map where you start here and go here. There are a lot of variables to look at.”

The district’s 84 nurses do what they can to keep 40,000 students healthy. While they’ve had a handful of positive COVID cases each week since the start of the school, their work starts long before a positive test result which can take several days.

“We’re trying to separate ill care from well care,” she said.

There are two separate rooms for care this year.  From face shields to surgical masks and eye protection, many more precautions this year, too.

But, Hiltz has found the mental health of students has perhaps been most pressing.

“I think there’s some anxiety. Of course, there is for everyone in our community,” she said.

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A Licensed School Nurse, Tina Wacker works in six different buildings in the Osseo School District.

“We have a team of people that are strictly assisting families with COVID related issues,” Wacker explained.

She says their dedicated COVID team works in connection with the Department of Health to track family cases or even contacts students may have had.

“The virus is in the community. We’re really trying to keep it out of the schools,” she said.

Comfort and compassion have been key this year.  Universal medicine perhaps prescribed for many months to come.

“Our nurses are working through it and toughing it out just like everyone else out there,” Wacker said.

If a district has more than 1,000 students, they are required to have some kind of school nurse.  But, the state doesn’t keep much data on that field.

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Sixty percent of Minnesota districts that responded to a survey last year found more than half didn’t have a licensed school nurse.  Nearly 30% had no medical staff at all.

Liz Collin