Nurse on front line of pandemic

Amid pandemic, nurses job evolves to ensure safety.


Owen Musser

Faced with more work, nurse Carol Casteel works in her office this fall. Before being the LHS nurse, Casteel worked for the county health department. “There we did HIV testing, counseling, and home visits for families, postpartum families, young kids,” she said. Her work at LHS now includes contact tracing.

By Maxwell Cowardin, Reporter

In a normal year, nurse Carol Casteel’s office hums with students passing through to pick up medicine or sleep off a headache. It still hums, but now the doors to her office are closed. Entry with a pass only.  

Before the pandemic, Casteel worked on everything from distributing prescriptions to icing concussions. These days, she also has to balance the responsibilities of fending off a global pandemic.

“I like prevention better than just doing hospital work,” Casteel said. “However, these past couple years, we can do too much, except for with COVID, of course.” 

In a normal year, Casteel cares for students with headaches and distributes medication every day, all day, five days a week. Now, a simple headache is a cause of alarm. A positive test can mean that students need to quarantine. Casteel has had to take on working out quarantine plans with families and contact tracing with health officials while still serving in a uniquely personal role for students.

“She’s, in some ways, kind of like a mom away from home for a lot of our students while they’re here at Lawrence High School,” assistant principal Quentin Rials said.

Casteel would rather prevent infections than track them, and it frustrates her that more people haven’t gotten vaccinated. 

“It’s too bad that we couldn’t all get vaccinated,” she said. “But everybody has their own reasons why they didn’t want to get the vaccine. And I understand that. That’s difficult for some families. But that is kind of frustrating.”

Whenever infections do break out, it can be a big deal, although vaccines, testing and COVID mitigation procedures have made it much easier.

“We defer to her on everything,” teacher and girls basketball coach Jeff Dickson said. “She’s the expert. Whatever she says to do, we do. Simple as that.”

Casteel started her pediatrics career in a newborn ICU. From there she moved on to nursing and public maternal health. By the time she moved from Wisconsin to Lawrence, she began to work with the health department. 

Since 2008, Casteel has been the LHS nurse, helping the LHS student body for 13 years. During those years, she’s had three of her kids go through LHS, one graduating in 2020. 

Casteel works at LHS because she wants to educate students about how to stop injuries before they happen. At this stage in students’ lives, every little bit counts. Even if it gets hard to keep up with the almost constant flow of students in and out of her office, Casteel appreciates getting to be around students.

“It’s good to have students because they keep you on your toes,” she said. “They’re young. Everything’s always changing.”