For months, health clerk Cathy Pierce said, she and other school district staff heard about the coronavirus “like everyone else — bits of news and gossip.”
Pierce began to receive more credible information about COVID-19 and changes coming at all levels of government and education the week before Lawndale’s Mitchell Elementary shut in March. She has since come up the coronavirus learning curve, and now sees her work in a different light.
“Every year we deal with a medical problem or illness,” Pierce said. “Late last fall I sent a lot of students home with high fevers. Was it the coronavirus? I can’t say. I see a lot of students in November and December, but these fevers were a little higher than usual. To me, anything above 100 degrees is a fever. This time I was sending home students with 102 and 103. I remember one student who was over 104.”
Los Angeles County and Lawndale school district officials have set and re-set dates when classes will resume, but Pierce said district RNs originally told them to close their offices “as we would for summer recess.”
Under the Education Code, health clerks are considered essential personnel, but the district may call staff back to handle other urgent needs. “I could return as a health clerk or an administrative clerk. It all depends on what positions they need to fill.”
The district has been keeping clerks informed by email. “I check my work email every night before I go to sleep and every morning when I wake up.”
How does Pierce avoid the parade of illnesses that sick students drag through her office?
“I have always wiped my work area clean at the end of my shift — the desk, the doorknobs, everything — regardless of what custodians may also do overnight,” she said.
Paper facemasks are the “Old Normal” for Pierce. “I wear gloves, wash my hands all the time, take vitamins regularly, and follow other precautions. And I think you build up a certain immunity after working with sick students for years.”
“I’m constantly teaching kids good habits, like sneezing into a tissue instead of a room full of people. I always have a box of kleenex within reach. It’s my line of work.”