After more than 2,800 reported cases of the norovirus in schools in Yolo County, the “cruise ship virus” has set sail for schools in Sacramento County. And though there have been no reported cases at Country Day yet, the 200 reported cases at schools in Sacramento County makes Country Day vulnerable to the virus.
The norovirus is a family of viruses that cause intestinal flu. It gets its nickname from the multitude of outbreaks on cruise ships, but because the virus is spread through the fecal-oral route, it is easy to catch it anywhere.
Director of the physical plant Jay Holman said he has made norovirus prevention the custodians’ number-one priority.
“Our jobs for the staff are to wipe down door handles, sinks, faucets, student desks, tables and chairs.” Holman said. “I’ve instructed them to concentrate on that, even if it means sacrificing things like vacuuming a classroom.”
On May 18, the custodial staff began spraying down the school’s desktops with Virex and Tirade, which are chemicals that kill the norovirus in just five minutes.
The virus can be passed by simply shaking hands with an infected person who didn’t wash their hands. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the easiest way to prevent the virus is washing one’s hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.
According to Kristin Weivoda, a local emergency medical services administrator interviewed by The Sacramento Bee on May 23, hand sanitizers are ineffective against the norovirus.
“How many kids do we see with backpacks and hand sanitizers?” Weivoda said. “It’s amazing to say, but soap and water is the strongest way to fight this.”
In addition to washing hands, Holman recommends staying away from anyone who is or was contagious. Symptoms to watch for include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever and headache.
Studies show that those who were previously infected can still spread the virus on everyday objects like door handles for six weeks after they are symptom-free.
“We have Sani-Cloth wipes that we keep in the administration office,” Holman said. “And we have told the faculty that they can pick up some tubs if they want. They can then help by wiping down surfaces, concentrating especially on door handles and (things) that everyone (touches).”
If diagnosed with the norovirus, students should stay home for at least two to three days after they are symptom-free to reduce the chance of a school-wide epidemic, according to the Kaiser Permanente website.
Besides occasionally wiping down the desks and door handles, Holman has only one other job for the faculty.
“Monitor what’s going on,” Holman said. “And if you see someone who’s sick, get them home.”
—By Jackson Margolis