Two months after initial outbreak, 100 new cases arose last week

By Beige Luciano-Adams

Two months after John Adams Middle School students were exposed to norovirus during a weeklong science trip to Yosemite National Park, the highly contagious stomach bug continues to circulate throughout Santa Monica public schools, with at least 100 new cases reported last week.

In a media advisory Tuesday, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) confirmed new occurrences at the John Adams campus as well as Santa Monica High School, Lincoln Middle School and some elementary schools.

“We had approximately 100 new cases last week, throughout the district at 15 campuses,” SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker wrote. “This total has dropped weekly since the outbreak became district wide by mid-February.”

For Susie de la Rosa, whose seven-year-old son attends Roosevelt Elementary, the illness came with a slow onset of symptoms.

“Because he had been sick off-and-on, I was really afraid he was going to get it,” de la Rosa said, explaining that her son is on medication and often susceptible to whatever is going around at school.

“It was really gnarly to watch. It seemed very painful, but thank God he’s OK now,” she said, recounting “unbelievable stomach pains” that landed him in the hospital for 14 hours.

De la Rosa sent her son back to school on Monday, 72 hours after he stopped showing symptoms. (Affected students may still be contagious for days after they recover, and school officials recommend they stay home at least 48 hours after symptoms subside).

As to why the outbreak continues after coordinated efforts to contain it — including advisories, school closures and cancelled activities — a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Acute Communicable Disease Control efforts offered the following:

“Norovirus is very contagious. Not only could the students have it, but also their family members. Students may have contact with persons shedding norovirus outside of school in addition to at school.”

As to where else “outside of school” students might be coming into contact, “Only outbreaks are reported and investigated. For this outbreak, we know of cases reported by the SMMUSD,” according to the department.

SMMUSD uses a baseline for each school of typical yearly reported cases of gastrointestinal illness to determine when activities should be postponed or canceled. The district reports all four Malibu schools and some Santa Monica schools are below baseline and have resumed normal activities. Public health officials monitor some schools for two weeks after cases are closed and watch below-baseline schools for six days before they resume activities.

But the data has been unstable.

“We have had a few instances where the numbers have dropped for a few days, then spiked up again, starting the six-day review over again,” Pinsker said.

School and public health officials urge students and their families to wash their hands with soap and hot water often, especially after using the bathroom and before eating and drinking.

“Our top message for all parents at any school is to please keep their sick child home for 48 hours after the last symptoms to help eradicate this highly contagious illness from our campuses,” Pinsker said.