BENTON, Ark. – As the return to school comes during a massive surge in COVID cases, educators are working overtime behind the scenes to try and keep kids safe.

On the frontlines are school nurses.

School districts across the state have transitioned their health teams from treating sprains and giving out medication to contact tracing, often doing both tasks at the same time. In the Benton school district, nurses are near overwhelmed trying to track every exposure and positive case that appears, from the students to the employees themselves.

“We have kids coming and going, we have teachers and staff coming and going,” explained Isabella Bradley with Benton Public Schools.

She adds in addition to nurses, everyone from teachers to administrators are pitching in to try and make sense of the numbers, answering parent questions and alerting families to close contact calls as a team.

Jacqueline McEuen, director of health services at the Little Rock School District, says case counts like these haven’t been seen in more than a year, if at all.  

“Our highest month of COVID cases was January last year, and we saw over 350 cases,” said McEuen. “This first week of January back on campus, we saw over 300 in that first week [alone].”

McEuen said she’s proud of the district’s nurses for doing two jobs at once – and adds one unique challenge of contact tracing in a school is the urgency of alerting families to close contact, as kids will need to be taken home or checked as soon as possible to avoid an outbreak.

Both McEuen and Bradley say the best way for families to help during this chaotic time is to remain patient, keep their kids home if they’re not feeling well, and report positive cases when they do occur.