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Mysterious Disease Outbreak Closes John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica

JAMS Suddenly Closed After 80 Students, 10 Teachers Became Ill. Norovirus suspected.


February 5, 2017

Norovirus is often associated with cruiseships and other cramped living situations

Update: Thursday night, 2/3: JAMS is closed Friday 2/3, due to Norovirus outbreak. From the District: On recommendation of the LA Department of Public Health, we are closing John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica, tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.

An email / voice message from Principal Steve Richardson went to to parents and staff this evening, telling them JAMS would be closed. "We have had 80 students and 10 teachers become ill with what is believed to be the same thing, as of today" said Spokesman Gail Pinsker. The City has also issued a press release about Norovirus.

The letter from Richardson reads:Dear JAMS Families,

After careful consideration and in adherence with the recommendation by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH), we will be closing JAMS tomorrow, Friday, February 3rd and cancelling this year’s trip to Astro Camp.

As you know, we have been dealing with a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness this past week that has affected many JAMS students, staff and parents. While this virus is consistent with the Norovirus, it is yet to be definitively identified. Public Health professionals are thus uncertain of the incubation period. They do anticipate that due to its highly contagious nature and the escalation in affected cases this week, this infectious cycle could extend weeks at JAMS and spread to multiple campuses unless immediate measures are taken. Consequently we will close the campus tomorrow and conduct a "terminal cleaning" over the weekend under the guidance of the LACDPH.

No students or staff will be allowed on campus tomorrow. All activities on campus are being cancelled from Friday to Sunday, with the exception of field sports. We will work on the Astro Camp refunds next week. Expect more information to follow this weekend. Sincerely, Steve Richardson"

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District issued an alert Thursday morning that students at a Santa Monica middle school were exposed to Norovirus during a camping trip to Yosemite.

“In the coming days, take preventative measures like washing your hands more frequently and using disinfectants,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. “We want everyone to stay healthy and to prevent more children and others in the community from becoming ill.”

Norovirus infection is characterized by nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in some cases, loss of taste. A person usually develops symptoms of gastroenteritis 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. General lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headaches, and low-grade fevers may occur. The disease is usually self-limiting, and severe illness is rare. Although having norovirus can be unpleasant, it is not usually dangerous and most who contract it make a full recovery within two to three days.

Norovirus, sometimes known as winter vomiting bug in the UK, is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans. It affects people of all ages. The virus is transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, and via aerosolization of vomited virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces. The annual number of diarrhea-associated events in outpatients is estimated at 7.7 million in industrialized countries, with 0.5 million hospitalizations, and 9.0 million hospitalizations in developing countries, with nearly 2 million deaths.

Outbreaks of norovirus infection often occur in closed or semiclosed communities, such as long-term care facilities, overnight camps, hospitals, schools, prisons, clubs, dormitories, and cruise ships, where the infection spreads very rapidly either by person-to-person transmission or through contaminated food. Many norovirus outbreaks have been traced to food that was handled by one infected person.

The complete alert from SMMUSD is below.


Dear parents / guardians and staff,

We learned that 7th grade students from John Adams Middle School (JAMS) were potentially exposed to a gastrointestinal illness during a five-day Yosemite science trip last week, possibly Norovirus. The 190 students, along with several teachers and parents, returned to Santa Monica on Friday, Jan. 27th and did not re-enter campus until Monday morning. We learned that several students showed signs of illness while still on the trip and we notified all JAMS parents on Sunday, as we worked to identify and determine the extent of the illness.

The health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority and we are working closely with Los Angeles Department of Public Health (LADPH) to institute control measures in order to help prevent the spread of this illness. LADPH is investigating and currently believes that this originated in Yosemite, potentially exposing students from dozens of school districts.

The challenge with this highly contagious illness is that a child or adult may still feel well when they are contagious, making containment difficult. We have experienced what we believe is the same illness appearing in other JAMS students who were not on the trip and we have learned, possibly spread to a few siblings attending other SMMUSD schools in Santa Monica.

We have ongoing cleaning with cleansers suggested by LADPH at JAMS, and any other classrooms and facilities where we learn of a case, and we will continue with this practice.

LADPH has provided the following information to share with our families:

Symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses usually begin within an hour to 48 hours after exposure to agents such as bacteria, viruses or toxins. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms please notify the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health immediately.

People can become infected with gastrointestinal illnesses in some of the following ways, including:

• Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the infectious agent and then placing their hands in their mouths

• Having direct contact with another person who is infected (for example, caring for someone who is ill or sharing utensils with someone who is ill)

• Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the infectious agent.

These infections can be controlled by taking steps to prevent person-to-person transmission. The specific control measures that can be taken to decrease the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses include:

• Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces contaminated with vomit and fecal material and the area surrounding these contaminated surfaces promptly

• Increasing the frequency of environmental cleaning in areas including bathrooms, kitchens, faucets, door handles, walls, and outside equipment

• Using disinfectants or bleach solutions on surfaces contaminated with vomit or feces.

• Cleaning agents used specifically for surfaces contaminated with Norovirus should

be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

• Cleaning carpets and soft furnishings with hot water and detergent or steam (dry

John Adams Middle School (JAMS)

vacuuming is not recommended)

• Carefully and frequently washing your hands

Please, if your child exhibits any of these symptoms, please keep him or her home and alert your school. LADPH asks that any student with this illness be kept home for three days AFTER the end of ANY symptoms, including tiredness and weakness, as they are still contagious during this time period.

For questions regarding this notification alert please contact, Mrs. Levenstein, Public Health Nurse, at (310) 998-3222.

We will continue to update you on this situation, as we focus on control measures to help prevent the spread of this illness on any of our campuses.

Thank you.

Gail Pinsker, SMMUSD


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