The Norovirus outbreak at local schools is diminishing, but not yet over, according to information presented by county and local officials.
Confirmed cases of the stomach illness have dropped from a districtwide peak of 147 to 23 and officials have plans in place to allow normal operations at local schools when illness levels drop below a baseline threshold.
The district has been fighting the outbreak of a gastrointestinal virus since early February when a group of students from John Adams Middle School returned from a field trip. School was canceled at JAMS for a day and non-essential activities have been suspended districtwide.
The County Dept. of Public Health described the disease as Norovirus at a recent meeting. Norovirus is easily transmitted person to person and can spread through direct contact or through contaminated food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of all foodborne illness in the U.S. can be attributed to Norovirus. Symptoms
include diarrhea and vomiting.
At a public meeting Tuesday night, district officials and representatives from the County said they’d reinstate non-essential activities at a school once the number of absent children attributed to a stomach illness was at or below the numbers reported for this time last year.
They said the baseline would vary per school and that schools would continue to be monitored for two weeks following the return to baseline levels.
Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, acting director of the acute communicable disease program at Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health said a cluster of cases at a specific date and time constitutes an outbreak when the numbers exceed normal expectations.
“There’s no real specific number that we rely on to define when something unusual is happening. Really what you have to do is compare it to what is expected,” he said.
According to information gathered by the district and presented by the county at the meeting, median baseline numbers for schools in the district for Sept. 2015 through Dec. 2016 are: Samohi 4, Lincoln 3.5, JAMS 2, MHS 3.5, Cabrillo 0.5, Pt. Dume 1.5, Smash 2,Webster 0.5,Will Rogers 3, Edison 0.5, Grant 2, McKinley 3, Roosevelt 2.5, Franklin 3.5 and Olympic 0.5.
The numbers presented this week provide a range that officials can work from but circumstances are not identical year on year or from school to school.
For example, high school students that reported feeling ill in 2015 could have been excused without visiting the school nurse’s office. However, during the outbreak every child that reports symptoms visits the nurse and is now part of the reporting statistics. Officials are taking those factors into account when making decisions about how to proceed.
Schwartz credited the actions taken by the district for helping fight the outbreak.
“The rapid response and very thorough cleaning done in the schools really kept the numbers lower than they might have otherwise been,” he said.
In addition to the closure and activity suspension, the district has been cleaning at every school with a focus on high touch surfaces (such as doors or computers). Additional cleaning is done following a reported sickness.
“With just 23 cases out of school because of illness, there’s no school that has a large
number currently,” said Schwartz.
Parents at the meeting had a range of concerns and questions including accusations
of overreacting, underreacting, poor communication, lack of information and health concerns beyond the virus outbreak.
District officials said they’d work to address the communication needs of parents and reiterated
the overall safety of local schools. Schwartz said his office had been in contact with the county coroner regarding a recent pair of student deaths at Samohi and while he couldn’t give out any specific medical information, he said the deaths were not related to each other or the virus.
“I can say definitively number one: there’s no evidence that links either of those to norovirus and there’s no evidence that links the two together,” he said.
Parents who suspect their child has the illness should keep them away from others. Cleaning is an effective way to prevent the spread as is washing food before eating, cooking food properly, avoiding food preparation or care for others when sick, washing laundry and cleaning contaminated surfaces. The CDC recommends a chlorine bleach solution with 5-25 tablespoons
of household bleach per gallon of water (or another disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency) for household cleaning.
Visit www.cdc.gov/norovirus/preventinginfection. html, www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-handwashing.html, or smmusd.org for more information.