Daily COVID testing forcing school nurses to step up

VERONA, Wis. —  About 20% of Verona Area School District’s COVID cases were reported in the last week.   As schools test and vaccinate students it’s forcing key staff members like Rikki Conwell to step up.

Conwell is the head nurse at Verona High School and runs daily COVID testing.  It’s a crucial component to keeping district schools open.

“It’s absolutely a game-changer,” says Conwell.

She’s also in charge of making sure VASD follows the latest pandemic guidance.

Conwell admits some days are hard.

“I’ll be totally honest, there are days when I go home and sit on the couch and just chill and try to reset and return the next day with a fresh attitude,” she says.

Mother of two children in the VASD, Conwell says she’s confident in the district’s plan to feel comfortable sending her daughters to school.

“The day we could get that vaccine I was getting them vaccinated,” says Conwell.  “They’re healthy.   I don’t worry as much now. (Last year) when we didn’t know (as much),  it was hard to send (them) to school.  I had to dig deep and know it was in (their) best interest to be there,” she adds.

VASD test hundreds of students each week.  Results can take up to four or five days, given the volume of tests being processed in the region.

Conwell’s family was dealt a crushing loss in December of 2020, when her grandmother Kathleen Mayer, had COVID and passed away.

Mayer was two weeks from being eligible for a vaccine before she passed and had plans to get it.

“She would’ve probably still been with us.  She was very healthy,” says Conwell.

Nurses like Rikki have a work-life balance that tips back and forth.  For now, the weight feels at least a little lighter knowing her community is having an impact beyond it’s walls.

“I’m proud that they’re doing the right thing. I’m proud we can provide this service. Now that we’re testing on site I feel really proud of what we have in place,” she says.

Conwell says testing and vaccination clinics wouldn’t be possible without their community partners like Fitchburg Family Pharmacy and Mount Horeb Pharmacy.