According to Time magazine, the virus has already affected about 1,000 staff and students. The Mesa County Public Health Department has confirmed that it is monitoring the virus outbreak. Although the illnesses are suspected to be the result of a norovirus outbreak, that diagnosis has not yet been confirmed through lab testing.
“We’re hearing reports that a person might feel just fine, and in less than an hour’s time have a vomiting episode, sometimes in public places,” the agency said in a statement obtained by Time. “That’s causing the further spread of the illness and making it more concerning than a typical gastrointestinal virus, much like norovirus.”
District officials have also said that there appear to be multiple strains of the virus that are affecting students.
“We are taking this highly unusual action because this virus is extremely contagious and spreading quickly across our schools,” Tanya Martin, the district’s nursing coordinator, is quoted as saying, the New York Times reported.
According to Emily Shockley, a spokesperson for the district, this is the first time the district has shut down all of its schools at the same time.
“The decision to close is the right move,” Jeff Kuhr, the executive director of the Mesa County Public Health Department, said in a statement Wednesday. “Past experience with these types of viruses tell us having a period of time away from close person-to-person contact can be instrumental in these illnesses running their course.”
School officials further noted in their release that custodial crews are working to disinfect schools, and that county medical providers are collecting stool samples from the infected in an effort to identify the virus.
To prevent the spread of norovirus, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wash their hands often, especially before eating or handling food, and carefully wash fruits and vegetables, as the virus can spread through contaminated surfaces and food. The CDC also recommends thoroughly cooking foods like oysters and shellfish, which are frequently consumed raw, because the virus is resistant to heat and often binds to the tissues of such foods.