Norovirus outbreak continues at Santa Monica schools

Nearly two months after a norovirus outbreak began during a class trip to Yosemite, students in Santa Monica are still falling sick with the stomach bug, according to school and public health officials.

Cases appear to be falling, but 100 students still contracted norovirus last week in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, with 22 new cases at Santa Monica High School alone, according to high school Principal Antonio Shelton.

“Samohi is continuing to experience new cases of gastrointestinal illness, norovirus, almost daily. We can’t let our guard down,” Shelton wrote in an email to parents this week. “We understand the disappointment of cancelling some important field trips and activities, but in order for us to return to ‘normal,’ we need to take this action.”

In late January, about 190 seventh-graders from John Adams Middle School went on a five-day trip to Yosemite, where health officials believe they caught norovirus. Some students started to experience the illness’ characteristic stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea while on the trip.

The middle school was ordered closed one Friday last month as norovirus cases began to grow. Classrooms were cleaned with special products to combat norovirus, and all activities on campus were canceled that day and the following weekend with the exception of field sports.

Public health officials believe students who went on the trip, as well as the parents and teachers who joined, spread the virus to others at John Adams, and to siblings who attend other schools.

Since the outbreak began, school officials have been working with the L.A. County Department of Public Health to determine which activities need to be canceled, said district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker. Field trips, such as those to museums or Disneyland, have been called off, and a districtwide Black History Month event was canceled last month because of fears of worsening the outbreak, she said.

Pinsker said most sports practices have continued, but nurses have monitored games with other schools as well as music concerts to make sure there aren’t infectious students who might spread the virus to others.

Norovirus is highly contagious and particularly challenging to control because children may feel healthy even when they’re still infectious. Parents are advised to keep children at home for 48 hours after the symptoms stop.

Health officials say people should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the bathroom, before eating and after group activities. Hand sanitizers don’t work nearly as well as washing hands when it comes to norovirus, they say.

At the outbreak’s peak last month, all 16 schools in the district had been advised to limit activities, but now that directive stands only for Santa Monica High School, John Adams Middle School, Lincoln Middle School and three elementary schools, Pinsker said. All Malibu-area schools are back to normal, she said.

“We do have a majority of our schools that are cleared and resuming activities,” she said. “The number of cases are absolutely dwindling.”

To read the article in Spanish, click here

 

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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