The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the jobs of many people. On the front lines of keeping students and teachers safe, school nurses have seen theirs change dramatically.

Instead of treating daily bumps and bruises, school nurses in many areas are heading up screening, testing and contact tracing. But those new jobs come as staffing shortages remain a problem in the field.

Shawna Carlton is the school nurse at West Buffalo Charter School. Every day, she deals with the typical bumps and bruises, aches and pains. It’s a job that requires her to wear many hats.

“I am tracking students that are absent,” Carlton said. “I’m tracking their symptoms, why they’re absent, whether or not it’s COVID-related and whether or not they’ll need a COVID test to come back.”

The pandemic has certainly made things more difficult, as she does her best to make sure students and staff are as healthy as possible.

“I think the biggest change has been that students used to be able to be in school if they had a stuffy nose,” Carlton said. “And now students who have a stuffy nose, that’s on the COVID list, so they may have to be sent home. They may need a test. Just communicating with teachers and communicating with families and making sure parents and guardians understand why we’re sending kids home.”

If there’s a positive case and possible exposures in the school, she has to work with contact tracers from the health department.

“We have to figure out where that student or staff member was, who they interacted with and also make sure that the protocols were followed,” Carlton explained.

And if someone shows symptoms, Shawna immediately takes them to an isolation room.

One of the biggest challenges is talking with concerned parents about COVID-19. She says she can sometimes hear the fear in their voices.

“Reassuring them that it’s safe to be here,” Carlton said. “That we’re doing everything we can to manage COVID and not have person-to-person spread hopefully. I think that’s been really tough but I think they’re understanding that we’re doing it.”

Shawna says so far with the health policies in place, they’ve been able to keep the school safe for in-person learning, and she’s still able to care for the kids just as she always has.

“Even though COVID’s a big part of our job now, it’s [not] the only thing,” Carlton said.