92: School Nurses Navigate Omicron’s Surge

Dr. Linda Mendonca, President of the National Association of School Nurses, explains how her members are coping with students’ return to classrooms amid the threat of the Omicron variant; Robert Jennings, Executive Director of the National Public...

Dr. Linda Mendonca, President of the National Association of School Nurses, explains how her members are coping with students’ return to classrooms amid the threat of the Omicron variant; Robert Jennings, Executive Director of the National Public Health Information Coalition, shares what public health communicators think has worked well during the pandemic; and ASTHO releases its list of the 10 most used member resources in 2021.

Website: National Association of School Nurses

Website: National Public Health Information Coalition

ASTHO Blog Article: ASTHO’s Most Used Resources of 2021

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, January 6th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Students are heading back to class after the holiday break, but the big concern is whether the Omicron variant will be a problem when school bells ring. The FDA and CDC are working this week to review COVID booster shots for kids ages 12–15. At the same time, the president reminds us there's money for school ventilation systems and testing.

Where does this leave school nurses? Busier than ever. We hear more about their work from Dr. Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses. It's today's morning conversation.

What are some of the challenges facing school nurses right now considering Omicron?


Really, the priority for school nurses has been—and is—to keep their school, communities, you know, students, and staff healthy and safe  while they're maintaining a healthy school environment.

So, I would say the big challenge right now is having the resources that they need to provide those mitigation strategies, such as testing in schools—and that includes having those supplies to do that and the extra staff to really implement a testing strategy.

The National Association of School Nurses really supports COVID-19 testing in schools as one of several mitigation strategies against the transmission of COVID. But you know, NASN really is advocating for outside organizations to partner with schools around this mitigation strategy.


It's tough to find a test right now because everybody wants one. How are the nurses going to manage that?


Well, right, it's a challenge. I think partnerships between schools and outside organizations—that will help with testing strategies, whether it's getting the testing kits to, you know, state or outside vendors to really help them to do that. Test-to-stay can really allow teachers to teach and administrators to lead and school nurses to do what they need to do on a daily basis, you know, nevermind COVID.

But focusing on the care of students, you know, with chronic health conditions; and, of course, mental health concerns are rising.


Staffing is another issue nurses across the board, whether they're in schools or hospitals or doctor's offices—they're in high demand. How do you get extra help for a school that might only have one nurse working there full-time?


Yeah, it's been challenging.

We've had some funding through the American Rescue Plan with the Astor funds and the ELC grant through CDC for doing testing.

You know, I've heard from school nurses around the country that it's been challenging to find bodies to do that—whether it's a nursing assistant or, you know, people can be trained to do the testing, but trying to find them has been challenging. So, you know, school nurses have even left their positions, as well.

So, it continues to be a struggle and a challenge around the country to provide those staffing resources.


You've got a big audience here—public health leaders across the states and territories. What can they do to help school nurses get through these next several weeks as we hope for the decline, eventually, of Omicron?


Right, so, you know, school nurses really bring a public health expertise into this mix. So, to continue to collaborate and find ways to partner with schools, I think, and utilize those school nurses, you know, with their expertise.

Make sure that, you know, state leaders are sharing the guidance in a timely manner. You know, school nurses and school administrators are interacting daily with students, parents, and families; and they're adjusting their policy and communications as, you know, all these protocols change, as we know, very rapidly. So, being able to provide them efficiently to their school communities is important.

And, you know, I would also add to continue to work together, you know, whether it's setting up a school-located vaccine clinic to get students, staff, and families fully vaccinated. And I can't stress enough the importance of collaboration and partnership in all of our efforts.



Public health communicators got together recently to discuss their work during the pandemic. Robert Jennings leads the National Public Health Information Coalition. His group hosted the meeting. He tells us what attendees say has worked well during the COVID-19 emergency.


There was consensus that the crisis and emergency risk communication principles stood up fairly well, and those principles are being first, being right, and being credible. There may be some discussion needed in the future on how the principles will need to be tweaked to be more applicable to today's challenges; but again, overall, they stood up pretty well.


As for areas needing improvement, we'll tell you what communicators have to say about that next week.


Finally today, lists can be helpful tools, especially at the start of a new year. ASTHO has one focused on the resources its members used most in 2021: an online course for training new COVID-19 case investigators and contact tracers top the list; an online bootcamp teaching you how to serve during the pandemic came in second. Also making the rundown, a summit focused on health equity in public health leadership and the COVID-19 vaccine comparison chart.

See the full list of resources that ranked highest—and are still available—using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


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Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.


President, National Association of School Nurses

Robert Jennings

Executive Director, National Public Health Information Coalition