Students and teachers at The Ranches Academy in Eagle Mountain are having an unexpected four-day weekend, but it's not likely to be fun for many of them. The time off comes courtesy of a stomach virus that has sickened at least 60 students.
The charter school, which has about 350 students, is being thoroughly cleaned and Utah County health and food safety experts are trying to determine where the norovirus came from. So far, says Rob Tobler, food service program manager in the environmental health division, they've had no luck.
"We were notified on Friday last week that about 60 students had gone home sick from that school," with vomiting as a primary symptom.
But it's not always easy to find the source of a norovirus. "It moves so fast from person to person," Tobler said.
School administration sent letters home Wednesday with all the kids, announcing the school would be closed until Monday. Tobler said health officials recommended, but did not order the closure. The hope is "a thorough cleaning top to bottom and four days of noncontact," will send the virus "back to its corner," Tobler said.
They're telling anyone who feels sick to avoid handling food and, if they must, wear gloves. Handwashing is important, but that alone won't knock down a norovirus, which is a fecal-oral disease that's hard to just wash off. It can be spread through food contamination or by inhaling the virus through little drops of secretion.
School nurses are tracking nearby schools, including some that siblings might attend, to see if there's an elevation in illness there. So far, nothing significant has been reported at those schools, said environmental health director Terry Beebe.
— Lois M. Collins