Answering the call: Darien school district nurses help at testing site
“It’s what we do.”
When a coronavirus testing site was announced for Darien High School, four Darien school district nurses volunteered to help. Nurse volunteers were coordinated through Alicia Casucci, head of nursing for the district.
As of Monday evening, March 23, there were 11 positive cases in the town of Darien. There were 415 cases statewide, including 270 in Fairfield County.
Fifty-four of the 415 cases were hospitalized patients and there were 10 deaths.
Lisa Grant, a school district nurse at Hindley School, said the nurses were asked about volunteering when the site was being set up at Darien High School.
“We had been asking our director what we can do to help so when Darien signed up for a site, we volunteered,” Grant, who has been at the school for seven years, said.
Though the schools are now closed through April 20, or possibly longer, Grant said she has work she must complete at home. But when the opportunity to help through testing for COVID-19 came up, she said yes.
“It’s what we do,” she said.
Grant said she has also volunteered to help Murphy Medical Associates at other testing locations. She said she felt completely protected and safe with the gear she and the other nurses wore during the testing.
Darien had 50 people sign up for testing — but Grant said she wasn’t sure if the snowy and stormy weather discouraged some from showing up.
Grant, who has a senior at Darien High School along with three older children in college, is experiencing eLearning like many other parents in Darien and the surrounding area. She said as a senior, school being closed is hard on her daughter, but said the eLearning is impressive.
Another school nurse, Yvonne Dempsey, works at Ox Ridge School.
“As nurses, we put ourselves out there any way we can. I figured that’s something I can do in my free time with the schools closed,” she said.
The scene at the testing site was “quite surreal, out of a movie,” she said. Most of those who had testing appointments appeared to be in their 50s and over, with a few in their 20s or young adults.
“For the most part, everyone was very grateful we were there,” Dempsey said.
Those grateful included the doctors who, Dempsey said, had been doing testing elsewhere since 7 a.m. Darien High School’s testing hours were 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“They were exhausted,” she said.
Dempsey has twin daughters who graduated from Darien High School last year and are taking a gap year before going to college. One of them works at Trader Joe’s, and she said the market is practicing good social distancing.
“We are trying to stay healthy and help in any way we can. It is sad that this is our way of life right now,” she said.
“Testing is the key — testing and isolation as much as possible is the only way to stop the spread,” Dempsey said.
“When times are tough, Darien responds. We are so fortunate to have dedicated and professional school nurses who stepped up to volunteer at Darien’s first COVID-19 drive-thru testing site on Monday,” First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said.
“Healthcare workers are on the front lines for virus response. These incredible Darien women didn’t have to help but they wanted to help. They know how important these tests are for our residents. We are deeply grateful for their selfless service,” she said.
Schools Superintendent Alan Addley said he always has “tremendous respect and admiration for nurses, doctors, first responders and caregivers who are always on the front line.”
“I thank our school nurses for volunteering their time and talents to serve the community in facilitating the testing site at the high school; however, I am not surprised by their spirit of service, it is what they do every day,” Addley said.
Dr. Steven Murphy, whose medical practice ran the testing site, said the school nurses were “amazing.”
“The school nurse is so important — it is almost like they resolve anything with a Band-Aid and a popsicle. They are so resourceful. They are on the front lines of public health every day so this was not a big stretch for them. They had tremendous skills. The town is very lucky to have those nurses,” he said.
In partnership with the town, Murphy said he hopes that as testing supplies have time to build up, the Darien testing site can be set up more than once a week. He also said testing kits are available on Amazon and eBay that, after proper screening and a doctor’s direction like all other appointments, people can bring themselves to a testing site. The trick is, the kit has to be official. Murphy Medical Associates is expecting to advise guidelines on those on its website.