The other morning, like every morning, they were waiting for Chris Cordell. Kids with colds. Plugged ears. One who thought he had the flu. Cordell, the Garfield High School nurse, looked each one over and sent them all back to class with a cup of hot tea.

The other morning, like every morning, they were waiting for Chris Cordell.

Kids with colds. Plugged ears. One who thought he had the flu.

Cordell, 58, the Garfield High School nurse, looked each one over and sent them all back to class with a cup of hot tea: lemon or peppermint for colds, ginger for upset stomach. (Sore throats get a saltwater gargle).

Soon, it won’t be as simple as tea for Cordell and other school nurses. The flu season is upon us, and it’s bringing a nasty friend: swine flu.

A recent study in the journal Science found that each student infected with the flu will pass it on to an average of 2.4 classmates.

Here at Garfield, Cordell is the first line of defense for 1,600 students — and their families and friends.

“Kids are germ factories,” she said. “They’re in close quarters, they’re sharing. It’s a perfect environment to spread germs.”

But Cordell’s role has taken on even more importance in the current recession.

Parents are losing jobs and medical benefits; and those with jobs are often reluctant to stay home with a kid who might be ill.

“A lot of times, we have parents who will say, ‘You’re sick; why not go see the school nurse?’ ” instead of taking them to the doctor, she said.

So Cordell is the one left holding the thermometer, which is a good thing: 92 percent of students evaluated by a school nurse go back to class, according to the National Association of School Nurses.

Some 40 kids pass through Cordell’s office every day, first taking a seat below a wall of brochures with titles like “The Truth About Cigars” and “Self Injury: A Silent Scream.”

There’s an adjacent cot room and, across the way, a Teen Health Center for other needs. (The Center is funded by Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Family Education Levy).

Cordell has been at Garfield for five years. Before that, she was an emergency-room mental-health nurse — which prepared her for anything here.

Kids come in with menstrual cramps and runny noses, but “Some are just sad,” Cordell said.

“The public thinks we just do Band-Aids. But it’s so much more in terms of physical and mental health,” she said.

“We need to assess whether this child is safe.”

Cordell enters her assessments in a database reviewed by the Seattle School District. The district then reports illness-related absences and other relevant data in weekly calls with the King County Department of Public Health.

Last week, 2,100 students visited school nurses in the district. Of those, 97 students were assessed for, and 43 confirmed with, some form of flu, according to Pegi McEvoy, the district’s safety and security manager.

Those students were sent home and couldn’t return to school until they were fever-free for at least 24 hours.

Cordell also watches other local outbreaks.

Earlier this month, two University of Washington sorority members came down with swine flu during Rush Week. And organizers of the Penny Arcade Expo reported nearly 100 cases of the H1N1 virus after the video-game convention, held in Seattle over the Labor Day weekend.

“If it’s in the community, it’s in the schools,” Cordell said, before stepping back into the hall.

“Next to see the school nurse, please!”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She got her Rubella Umbrella.