'Rolling incidence of students throwing up': Norovirus outbreak forces Livonia school to cancel classes

A Metro Detroit school was forced to cancel classes for the rest of the week after numerous students and staff fell ill with a highly contagious stomach virus.
Photo credit Getty

LIVONIA (WWJ) - A Metro Detroit school was forced to cancel classes for the rest of the week after numerous students and staff fell ill with a highly contagious stomach virus.

Administrators at St. Michaels Catholic School off Plymouth Road in Livonia sent a message to families on Wednesday evening with the decision to cancel classes, afterschool activities until next Tuesday, Feb, 14, in an effort to stop a norovirus outbreak.

Co-principal Kathy Nold reassured parents and students that the illness -- which causes vomiting and diarrhea -- is very common, but must be dealt with quickly to keep others from catching it.

"The health department expressed that we acted correctly in closing school as quickly as possible," Nold wrote in her message.

According to Nold, the outbreak started on Monday after students began to feel sick. At least two students vomited in their classrooms -- and it went quickly downhill from there.

"We had students who vomited... Tuesday, well before lunchtime, and then a rolling incidence of students throwing up gradually the rest of the day," Nold explained. "We are also having siblings starting the onset of symptoms in a rolling fashion."

Nold wrote that students continued to get sick on Wednesday, with almost a dozen students vomiting while in class. While staff handled the incidents as best as possible, Nold said they were not equipped to handle a schoolwide outbreak.

"Further, to say that the events... were disruptive and upsetting (to the students affected) is an understatement," she explained. "To have what occurred in our first grade yesterday (10 students vomiting in classrooms within a 4 hour window) would be unmanageable at a schoolwide level."

The co-principal said several staff members are now also sick.

"In speaking to the Wayne County Health Department and reading the literature they have provided–and after consulting with Monsignor Tindall, Mrs. Kuszczak, and Mr. Grau–I have made the very tough decision to close school and all programming in our building until Tuesday, Feb. 14."

Students already had a scheduled day off on Monday, Feb, 13, officials said. Classes will resume at their normal time the following day.

Nold apologized to families if the decision to cancel classes causes an issue with work schedules or other plans, but said she firmly believed that keeping everyone home was in the "best interest of the health of our school."

"The health department let us know that if any student were to throw up with this Norovirus in a classroom in the days to come, we would likely have to start this entire cycle of school closure all over again," she continued. "This is not what we want."

According to the Wayne County Health Department, Norovirus is highly contagious for at least three days after a person recovers from symptoms. The virus passes easily and quickly by having direct contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or water and touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth.

Health officials said outbreaks are common any time of year, but happen more often from November to April.

Nold instructed parents not to send their children to school if have been ill until three days after they feel better.

"By closing school now, we will give those sick students an opportunity to get well and no longer be contagious to others," the co-principal continued in her letter. "I hope that you as parents understand that I do not make this decision lightly, but I know it is the right thing to do."

While everyone is at home, Nold said the school's maintenance staff will disinfect the classrooms and common areas with an aerosol sanitizer as well as wipe down all hand rails, door knobs and other surfaces the fogger doesn't reach.

"We are also sanitizing any affected carpets and floors and following all safety procedures for the safe disposal of waste. We are following all health and safety procedures per our protocols and the guidance of the Wayne County Health Department. I hope that this gives you peace-of-mind and comfort."

Nold asked for parents to report any new suspected cases of norovirus to the school secretary, Kelly Burchart, at kburchart@livoniastmichael.org.

For more on norovirus, visit cdc.gov/norovirus .

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty