Covid symptoms? School nurses will decide what to do.

Guidance from two state agencies changes the focus of schools’ Covid response from isolation to permitting attendance for those with mild symptoms

The Vermont Agency of Education and the Department of Health recently issued a joint memo to school nurses for the opening of school relative to COVID-19.

The memo gives school nurses recommendations on how to manage symptomatic individuals and implement testing protocols. It also suggests communication strategies, including the need to work closely with local medical practices.

“School nurses have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep students healthy,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said in a news release. “As we begin to think of COVID-19 as an endemic disease, we once again need to shift our thinking. COVID-19, like the flu, is now a part of our lives.”

The memo puts emphasis on the clinical judgment of school nurses in determining if a student or staff member with mild symptoms is well enough to attend school.

“This will be important as we get into the winter months,” said Levine, “since the presentation of mild respiratory disease symptoms - including a runny nose, nasal congestion, minimal cough, and absence of fever - can enable a student or staff member to stay in school provided they have no current or recent household exposure to COVID-19.”

The use of testing is also outlined in the memo. Schools will be provided a supply of both antigen and loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests to implement the protocol outlined in the memo. Both in-school and take-home testing will be available. School nurses will decide when to test and what test to use.

“Testing will be used to help inform the clinical decision making of school nurses in their work with symptomatic individuals,” said Secretary of Education Dan French, “but testing should not be required for symptomatic students or staff to return to school.”

Prior to the summer break, antigen and LAMP tests were distributed to schools across the state in anticipation of the upcoming school year. Schools will be able to order additional testing supplies through the Agency of Education website.

“We will no doubt continue to see cases of COVID-19 in our communities and in our schools, but with the advent of vaccination and new treatments, the risks from COVID-19 are much lower than they were two years ago,” said French.

Finally, schools and school districts are encouraged to coordinate their response protocols and testing procedures with pediatric primary care offices in their communities, to improve communication with students and families.

This recommendation builds on the strong partnerships built between schools and pediatricians over last two school years, state officials observed.

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