Williamstown Middle School nurse Maria Loos not only stepped up to an important role in the district during COVID-19, she now volunteers her time to administer vaccines at the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford.
“(The) Gloucester County Department of Health did say they would offer to pay school nurses to administer the COVID vaccine … But I didn’t get chosen,” Loos acknowledged. “But I felt like I needed to do something to give back, and I know what I am doing and I am good at it.”
Just before the new school year, Loos used her years of experience as a public health nurse to help create COVID protocols for the Monroe Township School District. She created a presentation for the Monroe Township Board of Education to help parents and teachers understand how the school year would be different.
“On average I would see 70 to 90 kids every day,” Loos said. “We have now come up with plans that we ask teachers to follow. We ask them not to send kids to us and to try to handle minor injuries in the classrooms.”
Such injuries include loose teeth, headaches or stomach aches.
Despite seeing fewer students, Loos and her colleagues still have long days of work ahead of them. Public health officials have asked school nurses across the country to work as contact tracers within their districts.
“When we find out a student or someone within the student’s family has COVID, we reach out to that family and advise them what any contact tracer would advise them: quarantine and isolation time,” Loos explained. “We ask them to follow the school policy and tell them when their child can return to school. “
If a student within the district has tested positive or is showing symptoms of COVID and he or she has siblings in a separate school, it has been decided that one nurse will be assigned to contact trace and inform the family throughout quarantine.
“We are on the phone all day, and even though I am home today, I still have a stack of numbers I have to call,” Loos said. “We ask teachers to let us know if they find out a student is sick. Anyone who is sick or has COVID-like symptoms, we are keeping home as well.”
Even though Loos works on calls and contact tracing during the week, she still offered her services to administer COVID- vaccines on Wednesday afternoons. The Rowan medical school has third- and fourth-year medical students helping to administer the shots, but due to younger students being unable to give vaccines, the school was still in need.
“The medical reserve corps called me and told me they are looking for vaccinators,” Loos said. “The Rowan school of medicine had just started with their COVID vaccines and they were in major need of volunteers.”
Loos recently received her own second dose of the vaccine, but reiterates how important it is for people who are eligible to get their shots
“There are people with other health needs that are not going to the hospital,” Loos noted. “After the second vaccine, your immunity response is kicking in and you are going to feel like you would if you had COVID. Mine lasted a good 24, almost 48 hours, but I could never imagine being like this days on end.
“If there are any other nurses or medical professionals who can vaccinate, we are always looking for other people.”