As the Davis School District is lauded for being the only district in the state to have a COVID-19 point of contact at each of its schools, school nurses in the Weber and Ogden school districts are being spread thin to take on the responsibility.
Under the Utah State Board of Education’s COVID-19 school manual, every school in the state must have a point of contact who is responsible for contact tracing in that school. While health departments handle the contact tracing of someone who has tested positive for the virus in the community, schools are responsible for notifying anyone who has been within 6 feet of that individual on school grounds.
“It’s dominated the vast majority of our time and efforts,” said Karen Harrop, who oversees nurses in the Ogden School District. “In a nutshell, it’s been what we have been doing.”
Before the school year started in August, the Davis School District hired a point of contact for each of its 91 schools. In the Weber and Ogden school districts, that job falls to nurses who typically manage multiple schools.
The Weber School District has 15 nurses covering its 45 schools, meaning each nurse is assigned an average of three. In the Ogden School District, nurses are pulled in even more directions. The district has three nurses for its 19 schools, giving each nurse an average of six assignments.
According to both districts, nurses acting as a point of contact at multiple schools has not inhibited their ability to conduct contact tracing. They say it has, however, had other negative impacts.
“The true job we normally do has been laid at the wayside while we do contact tracing this year,” said Claudia Streuper, the head nurse in the Weber School District.
Schools are mandated by the state to ensure all students are adequately vaccinated and conduct vision screenings each year. This year, however, both requirements have been suspended by the Utah Department of Health.
Streuper is most concerned about no one being there for children who are not feeling well or are experiencing medical emergencies.
“I feel like the children deserve a school nurse in their school every day, all day long,” she said. “It benefits every child’s health to have a nurse in the building.”
Weber School District spokesperson Lane Findlay said because the nurses’ ability to do their job is limited, teachers are being asked to take a more active role in caring for children. When students are symptomatic of the virus and a nurse is not present, teachers and school staff are responsible for isolating that child.
“We have had to identify an isolation room in schools for when kids are exhibiting symptoms,” Streuper said. “It would be great if we could have a nurse in the building to handle that.”
In the Ogden School District, staff have had to jump in to help nurses out, too, Harrop said. But even with the extra help, all of the nurses in the district are working overtime. Harrop estimated that, so far this school year, all of the nurses have worked 50 to 60 hours a week.
“There will be no stone unturned, we’re committed to that — every student will have their needs met,” she said.
Both Streuper and Harrop said if any resource would improve the situation for nurses in their respective districts, it would be more nurses. Harrop said manpower is essential to nurses in Ogden being able to meet students’ needs while maintaining their own physical and emotional health.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for more nurses in both districts, the call to hire more started long before 2020.
“I think that we talk about (hiring more school nurses) every year,” Streuper said. “The problem is funding.”
The Davis School District has nurses spread across multiple schools, too. Its ability to hire a point of contact for each school, however, came from outside funding.
The Standard-Examiner filed a public records request Tuesday to obtain records from the district regarding its CARES Act funding, which according to state law it is allowed five business days to fulfill.
Although the Standard-Examiner had not yet obtained records the documents by the time of this article’s publication, FOX-13 reported that the district used $500,000 of its own funds and received $700,000 from the Davis County Health Department to provide paychecks for the new points of contact.
The Weber-Morgan Health Department, because it is not a single county entity like its Davis County counterpart, does not have CARES Act funding of its own, said spokesperson Lori Buttars. Instead, CARES Act money distributed to districts on top of the money they have already received would come directly from Weber County.
According to Weber County Treasurer John Bond, the Weber and Ogden school districts will likely have to wait a little longer to receive that money. The county was told by Gov. Gary Herbert’s office it could potentially receive a total of $24 million in installments of $8 million, Bond said. Weber County is waiting for its third installment.
While the first two installments were distributed to small businesses and nonprofits in the area, Bond said the last installment will be used to support larger entities within the county, like the sheriff’s department, the county jail, the Weber-Morgan Health Department and the two school districts.
The Weber and Ogden school districts have spent the majority of CARES Act funding they have already received on preparing facilities for reopening, sanitation, personal protective equipment and online learning platforms, according to district spokespeople and records obtained by the Standard-Examiner.
Until the Weber School District receives more funding, it is looking to other solutions. Streuper said the district is working to enlist the help of the Weber-Morgan Medical Reserve Corps. But for now, nurses are continuing to do what they can to keep students healthy.
“When you go to any place in the schools, they are working so hard to keep kids safe,” Streuper said. “They feel the stress of that, and nurses do too.”