The Norovirus-Like Illness That Closed Every School in Mesa County Seems To Be Spreading. But The State Isn’t Too Worried

November 23, 2019
Palisade High School, the first school in Mesa County to close due to the unknown, norovirus-like illness.Palisade High School, the first school in Mesa County to close due to the unknown, norovirus-like illness.Stina Sieg/CPR News
Palisade High School, the first school in Mesa County to close due to the unknown, norovirus-like illness.

A norovirus-like outbreak that swept through Mesa County schools last week appears to be spreading elsewhere in Colorado.

Days after Mesa County closed all 46 of its schools through Thanksgiving break, West Grand School District in Kremmling 157 miles away announced Thursday it was also shutting its doors temporarily. 

Every West Grand School District school closed Friday and will remain closed on Monday and Tuesday ahead of their scheduled Thanksgiving break to get a deep clean. 

Garfield County Public Health said it has also received a handful of reported cases of a similar illness from child care centers, and sent out an advisory to residents. Mesa County Public Health also said five day cares and one long-term care facility has cases as of Friday. 

West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard said about 70 students and 20 staff members are reported sick. That’s a significant number of the district’s 440 students and 80 employees on staff.

The district first noticed students getting sick Wednesday. By Thursday, the district sent out a notice to parents that schools would close. 

“Certainly the symptoms that we were seeing mirrored what seems to be happening across the state,” Peppard said. 

Nicole Comstock of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the state is monitoring the issue, but they aren’t that worried.  Colorado gets between 150-250 norovirus or suspected norovirus outbreaks each year, and she said there are usually not any long-term health effects.

Those cases usually start happening in the late fall and early winter months, peaking in December and January. 

“The fact that we’re seeing multiple outbreaks in different parts of the state is not out of the ordinary,” Comstock said. “I would say the number of people affected does seem higher than what we’ve seen in past years but the number of outbreaks and the fact that there are multiple areas in Colorado experiencing outbreaks is what we would expect to see.” 

State health officials said a lot of the outbreaks are on the Western Slope, but with a few on the Front Range too. Moffat, Montrose and El Paso counties, as well as the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, have all been reported. There have also been a few schools in the Denver metro area that have reported outbreaks. There is no statewide plan to combat the illness, but the health department does provide guidance for individual counties on how to contain the problem.

The onset of symptoms can be sudden, but people who get sick usually feel better in a day or two. Most people recover without any medical treatment. It’s important for people to remain hydrated and stay home if they’re sick to avoid spreading norovirus to others. Many people catch the virus after getting viral material on their hands or on something that will be then placed in their mouth, typically food. 

“For the public we recommend washing hands really well,” Comstock said. “It’s a very hearty virus, so if someone is sick in your house, it’s important to use a disinfectant. 

Most common disinfectants and wipes won’t kill norovirus. Comstock said it’s best to use one cup of household bleach and one gallon of water and then spray the mixture on surfaces that may be contaminated with vomit and feces. Wipe it off after about a minute.