Novato Child Care Facility Recovers After Norovirus Sickens Kids, Staff

Hamilton preschool followed protocol, conducted a thorough cleaning and was cooperative with temporary shutdown, according to a county health official.

Just about everything is back to normal at a Novato preschool where a norovirus forced the facility’s closure for a few days and a nasty stomach bug worked its way through at least 22 people, officials said Tuesday.

A fast-moving virus similar to the one that sickened the stomachs of in February during an off-campus field trip recently was discovered April 21 at the in Hamilton. Officials at the Marin County Department of Health & Human Services declined to mention the name of the facility, but preschool Executive Director Susan Gilmore confirmed that the North Bay Children’s Center went through a thorough disinfecting with environmentally safe cleaning products and everybody is feeling better now.

“It’s not uncommon, but it’s important to recognize it quickly and be proactive to prevent the spread,” she said. “… The parents were very cooperative because they understand the importance of not spreading the illness further if we can.”

Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips of the county health department said 11 staff members and 11 preschool students were sickened by a virus discovered April 21. The affected kids were between six months and 4 years old.

“We looked at the environment, saw opportunities for ongoing transmission of the virus and the facility closed for a few days,” Eberhart-Phillips said.

A statement written jointly by the county health department and the Marin County Office of Education said the agencies received full cooperation of the staff at the facility.

“They did a lot of cleaning and got the help of professionals,” Eberhart-Phillips said. “They took it very seriously and we are very pleased that they showed such leadership and responsibility. The parents can be assured that the staff did all they can.”

He added that only one other person, a staff member, is still experiencing symptoms.

Gilmore said the staff followed procedures drawn up for such an illness, alerting the health department as soon as two or more children experienced the same symptoms.

“You do that because public health might be aware of something greater going on in the community and you want to eliminate any further kind of spread,” she said.

Stool samples tested at a laboratory revealed the presence of norovirus, a contagious bug that can affect family members of those who pick it up in concentrated areas such as a preschool, according to the statement that was shared with school officials and PTAs in Novato. The health department said norovirus is one of the most common gastrointestinal infections in the United States and is the cause of regular outbreaks at child-care facilities.

“We express our deep concern for all those who became ill and for those families were directly affected,” the release stated. “We send our best wishes for a full and speedy recovery to all who have become ill.”

Symptoms include nausea and vomiting with some pain and fever, and typically it takes one or two days to work itself out of body, the release said. Hydration is key to recovery, and the best way to prevent the spread of norovirus is through meticulous hand washing.

“They best way to prevent it is very vigorous adherence to food washing and hand washing,” Eberhart-Phillips said. “Most of the transmission is person to person by touching each other or touching other things.”

Eberhart-Phillips said health officials like to keep people away from infected settings for up to 48 hours after the person feels better again. People who regularly handle food at such facilities are asked to stay away for three days.

“In general, you can be feeling fine again but the virus is all over you and you’re still infectious to other people,” he said.  “… At this point we’re hoping it’s over and, if not, certainly winding down.”

The Marin County Office of Education sent out the written statement in English and Spanish to local schools “in the interest of public health and safety for students and our community.”

Students at Novato’s and two other schools came down with norovirus in February at Walker Creek Ranch, a hand-on science camp in West Marin run by the Marin County Office of Education. The outbreak was severe enough that the and all personnel were evacuated. Many San Ramon kids and staff members remained ill for several days and passed along the bug to siblings.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

California Department of Public Health


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