Norovirus closes private school on Friday

October 30, 2008 3:00:59 PM PDT
More than a third of the students at a suburban private school missed class Thursday because of an apparent virus.The school has decided to close Friday and celebrate Halloween on Monday.

"Given the absenteeism, it's difficult for us to advance the curriculum," Hackley School headmaster Walter Johnson said. "These things tend to have a short, intense cycle, and this may be the peak."

Johnson said 325 students and 20 staff members were out Thursday, up by nearly 100 from the day before. The 109-year-old school has an enrollment of 836 from kindergarten through high school.

Hackley is a prestigious private kindergarten through 12th grade institution with a lower, middle and upper school. The first case involved an eighth grader last week. Wednesday, administrators notified the county health department it had spread significantly.

Two e-mails were sent to parents informing them the illness was not food poisoning, but Norovirus is highly contagious and is spread by hand to mouth contact. School officials are sanitizing public areas focusing on commonly touched items such as doorknobs and students are being reminded about the importance of hand washing.

Westchester County Department of Health Commissioner Joshua Lipsman said that, while tests were incomplete, the illness appeared to be a highly contagious but fairly common virus. He said none of the victims was seriously ill.

Johnson said the school had been carrying out the recommended measures to contain the outbreak: encouraging frequent hand-washing and decontaminating surfaces. Lipsman said victims should drink plenty of non-caffeinated, nonalcoholic fluids.

The headmaster said the lower school's Halloween parade will be held on Monday and students and faculty in upper grades can feel free to dress in costumes as well.

"We deserve a celebration," he said.

STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporter Marcus Solis

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