JC Nurse Teaches Coronavirus Prevention

Coronavirus uncertainty is all over the news and, as of Monday morning, in Jersey City four positive cases have been confirmed by city officials. While we wait for a solution, what to do in the meantime to protect ourselves and our community as well as how to talk to our children about the risks without causing them to stress is weighing on us all. The best advice we’ve heard so far? Keep calm and wash your hands.


Let’s Hear it Straight From the Nurse’s Mouth

Nurse Myra Ibarra has been the school nurse at Jersey City’s Soaring Heights Charter School for 19 years. With coronavirus prevention top of mind now for everyone, Ibarra is taking every measure to make sure the students at her school understand the importance of hygienic practices while maintaining a normal, calm environment for the young people.

Coronavirus prevention
Poster at Soaring Heights Charter School. Photo courtesy of Nightly news

“For the kids, we emphasize not touching the eyes, nose, or mouth because those are the doors that let germs into your body,” said Ibarra. “It’s also important to tell them to wash their hands after playing outside, touching doorknobs inside, and not just after using the bathroom … Everybody says ‘oh my god, my hands will be so dry,’ but I tell them hand washing is the number one things right now that will keep you healthy.”

Ibarra, along with the teachers at the school, have stocked all classrooms with tissues and hand sanitizers while emphasizing and teaching the children about best practices for hand washing. This is standard practice for yearly cold and flu season at the school, along with daily, professional cleaning of the classrooms down to the pencils and pens on their desks. However, the speed at which coronavirus spreads is creating a new urgency and caution that is putting more importance on making it clear to the children that hand washing, especially, will save lives.

Coronavirus prevention
Photo courtesy of cdc.gov

“The number one thing right now is to not panic,” said Ibarra. “If you keep yourself calm, it helps the students stay calm. If you have a routine, you should continue with it but remain mindful moving forward. The hand washing routine needs to be done every day, coronavirus or any other time of year.”


Making Hand Washing NBC Newsworthy

It’s one thing to tell kids how important it is to wash hands for 20 seconds and another to really show them what spreading germs looks like. Last week, with Dr. John Torres and an NBC New York camera crew at her side in Mrs. Robinson’s 4th grade classroom, Nurse Ibarra helped conduct an experiment with the students to show, not tell, the way germs spread, reinforcing coronavirus prevention. After a lesson on hand washing, the students’ and teacher’s hands were coated in non-toxic “glow powder,” called Glo Germ, and went along with their normal studies and day for an hour. After the hour was up, Dr. Torres shut the lights off and walked around the room with a special light, illuminating the trails of hand prints and smudges the students left behind after just an hour all over the classroom, their desks, and especially their own faces and clothes. The room and students were all glowing blue.

“Their faces were just in awe. They were so surprised and couldn’t believe how much they were glowing,” said Ibarra. “I can explain some things and tell them to imagine this or that, but when you see it, it stays with you more. The impact is greater because sometimes they don’t retain the information verbally, but when you show them, it’s different. It helped them to be more mindful.”

NBC Dr. Torres and crew interviewing Soaring Heights Charter School students. Photo courtesy of SHCS.

After the experiment, Mrs. Robinson told Ibarra that the kids were using the hand sanitizer and washing their hands more frequently. This experiment is also easily done with cheap, household alternatives (albeit messier than the water-soluble glow powder), including mixing cinnamon with oil, baby powder, and glitter to help show kids the real impact of the germs on their world.


Leading with Honesty is the Best Policy

As of reporting, public schools in Jersey City are closed for the week of March 16 – Soaring Heights Charter School is closed until March 27 – leaving young students with a lot of questions that Ibarra says are important to answer with simple clarity and honesty.

“If they have any questions, we keep the answers simple and factual. Sometimes too much information gives them anxiety, and they can get scared, but if you give an answer with facts and tell them that a lot of people are working together to solve this problem, their anxiety goes down,” said Ibarra. “You have to answer their questions, but in a calm manner. Do not lie, just be straight.”

Coronavirus prevention
Nurse Myra with Dr. Torres and NBC news crew. Photo courtesy of Nurse Myra

The most important thing, Ibarra reiterates, is not to panic. Children can sense when their parents or teachers are anxious. Reassuring them that they are safe and pushing the importance of hand washing will help ease their anxiety as well make them feel like they’re doing their part to help the world in a small, manageable way. It’s also important for parents to stay informed on what their children’s school is currently doing for coronavirus prevention and continue those lessons at home. While this is a scary time for everyone, it is also a good time to teach our children that it’s just as important to think about the health and safety of those around us as it is to protect ourselves, and we all need to be on the same team for this problem to go away.

“It is not one person who is important. It is about all of us and protecting others to stop the spread of germs,” said Ibarra. And to quote the bulletin board Ibarra hung in the hall at SHCS: “We are all in this together.”

If you are feeling coronavirus symptoms in Jersey City, call 201-547-5208. Visit jcnj.org/coronavirus for more coronavirus updates and information on coronavirus prevention.