During the week of Jan. 3, Kristin Coronado was wide awake in the early morning hours, hammering away at what felt like endless work as she received report after report of students and teachers at Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools testing positive for COVID-19. By week's end, case counts would skyrocket to 375 between the two schools, and 710 districtwide.
The past two years have been a blur for Coronado, a school nurse for the Sequoia Union High School District schools. When the omicron surge took hold of the district one of the hardest hit locally this winter, she said she worked over the holiday break, on weekends and sometimes until 1 a.m.
"We never want to go back to anything like that again," Coronado said, noting that she entered every positive case into a spreadsheet, then followed up with those who had contracted the virus. "We were just inundated. It was just insane."
Her work shifted from being "student centered" to "COVID centered," she said. Before the pandemic, she coordinated case management for students with health conditions, and conducted vision and hearing screenings.
Abbe Keane, a nurse for both the Woodside Elementary and Portola Valley school districts, said she was pulling 12-hour days during the latest wave of cases.
"I don't think anyone can prepare for a pandemic," she said. "You're trained to triage things. You always know the next step. With ever-changing rules, you are learning as you go."
Working with students and staff, coping
During remote learning, Keane did "drive by" check-ins at students' homes with high medical or educational needs, making sure their needs were being met during remote learning.
She said she felt like a lifeline for the students emotionally, since many hadn't seen anyone outside their homes for weeks.
Keane found herself cooking, talking on the phone and spending time outdoors coastal trails, Edgewood Park and Crystal Springs Regional Trail to cope with the stress of the pandemic.
"I wore out a pair of shoes," she said.
Coronado said she tried to turn off work as much as she could when she got home. As a parent, she understands where other parents were coming from when it was 10 p.m. and they wanted to know if they should send their kids to school the next day.
"That time in January was stressful, trying to balance home and work life from home, when my family needed and deserved my attention," she said. "I've never had to bring my work home as a school nurse prior to COVID, so this was new for me."
Need for more support
Coronado said this school year has been particularly tough because one of the district's three nurses went on leave in the fall. The district hasn't been able to find a temporary replacement because "to throw a new person into a COVID year as a short-term nurse is not an ideal job," Coronado said.
Superintendent Darnise R. Williams said a general shortage of health care workers has made it difficult for school districts to fill nursing positions.
Coronado asked the district for extra help on contact tracing and testing in August. It didn't come through until February, she said. Worksite Labs now conducts contact tracing and COVID-19 testing on campuses.
A lot of COVID-related work now has been taken off nurse's plates, she said. "The support is there now. In a perfect world, it would have been there in August, September or October."
Coronado said she wouldn't have survived without the support of her district health team coworkers, which includes health aides at each school site.
"We masked up as best we could and did the best we could with social distance; it was hard because kids are in our faces all day," she said. "By January everyone had KN95s on."
When COVID-19 tests were in short supply this winter, a Woodside parent stepped up and donated tests to the school.
One day in November, Keane arrived at her Portola Valley office to find students had mounted posters expressing their appreciation for her work and held a "Nurse Abbe Day," which included parties on both campuses. Messages included: "Thank you for keeping us safe," "Abbe is the medical industry" and "the moment."
"My favorite is 'vaccinated queen,'" she laughed.
Both nurses said that awareness of their role has grown since the pandemic.
Coronado said she received both nice and angry emails from district families, with some expressing irritation about masks and vaccines.
Hope for the spring
Both nurses said their work is already starting to resemble what it looked like before March 2020.
Keane is starting to get back to her normal job of first aid, training staff to use EpiPens, tracking immunizations and health education.
Masks became optional earlier this week in their districts, aligning with new state guidance, but Coronado said she will keep her mask on for now.
"I think we aren't out of the woods yet," she said. "We haven't been to this point yet so don't know what's going to happen. I fully also understand wanting to return to pre-pandemic ways. There's burnout on COVID."
Palo Alto Online is marking two years of the COVID-19 pandemic this week. If you missed any parts of our series, see the More Stories box, above.