HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (WABC) --Health officials in New Jersey are trying to calm parents' fears after a child died of the highly-contagious respiratory illness Enterovirus D68. And now, another student at the same school is recovering after being treated in the intensive care unit for similar symptoms.
Hamilton Township school officials held a meeting Sunday night to address the concerns of parents, who were assured that cleaning in all the schools has been ramped up.
"We're going to do above and beyond cleaning," Hamilton School Superintendent James Parla said. "Wiping off desks, making sure water fountains are cleaned out. We said that we would try to get out and communicate as quickly as we possibly can, and we've been doing it, we've been sending out robo-calls."
The virus claimed the life of 4-year-old Yardville Elementary preschooler Eli Waller, whose parents issued an emotional statement and have started a foundation in his memory.
Tabatha Vassey, the mother of the new pediatric patient, spoke to Eyewitness News reporter Toni Yates.
"It's been very stressful," she said. "It's hard, trying to give him his medicine on time, when he needs it or when he's having a hard time breathing. It's just been very stressful."
Vassey's 4-year-old son has been out of school for three weeks, ever since his cold and flu-like symptoms landed him in the ICU for four days. He's at home now, symptom free, but his family and his school are waiting to hear results from the CDC to see if EV68 played a role.
Vassey was in the morning pre-school, which used the same classroom that Waller's afternoon session used. Vassey is keeping close watch on her son.
"There's no fever, there's no more symptoms of cold, but we are having trouble with breathing still, where he is gasping for air," she said. "So we're trying to figure out is this normal with this virus or any kind of virus that's going on."
At the meeting, parents were told that everyone at every home and school has to pay extra attention to hygiene to keep the virus from showing up and spreading.
"You can clean to the greatest degree of white glove, but if someone walks in and sneezes or coughs, they cycle starts over," Hamilton health officer Jeff Plunkett said.
The district is telling parents it is safe for their children to be in school.
"We're encouraging them to go back to school immediately because the virus is everywhere, it's in our community, our building, our school, so by rights you could pick it up anywhere," Plunkett said. "We've cleaned, the Board of Education has cleaned the classroom, put in different procedures to clean between the a.m. and p.m. session."
Eli Waller died on September 25 at his home after showing symptoms of the respiratory illness.
His father released a statement to the Trenton Times on Sunday, which reads:
"My words probably won't capture him well, but everyone who met Eli knows how he made people feel; imagine a shy little puppy who wants only to make people proud and happy, maybe tripping a bit over his own paws, but truly full of unconditional love. He was a beautiful mix of eagerness and hesitancy, need and striving, caution and surprise, all of which were grounded in a pure, unconditional love.
The youngest of a set of triplets, born much smaller and lighter than his sisters, Eli nevertheless persevered through all the difficulties that came his way. Eli was not the type to give up, and even though things never really came easily to him, he would just plug away, day after day, practicing sounds, or movements, or skills, until he would eventually get them. He did this entirely in an effort to make his Mom and Dad proud, and we can unequivocally say that we were, and will continue to be, so very proud of our little Eli.
Eli cared deeply for his sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and his Mom and Dad. He enjoyed soccer with his best friend, and he made incredible progress through his dance classes and in school, thanks to his friends and teachers there. My wife and I simply cannot thank you all nearly enough for the roles you played in Eli's life. And while our hearts break at his passing, our hearts also overflow with overwhelming gratitude. We want everyone to know how grateful we are for such an outpouring of love and support, not only during Eli's life, but also after his passing. This is an incredible community in which we live, and we don't know what to say to you all other than thank you, from the bottoms of our hearts.
In light of this gratitude, and in honor of the loving life Eli lived, my wife and I, along with a number of friends and family, are in the process of establishing The First Day of School Foundation, which will provide support for students involved in Special Education. With the help of organizations such as the Yardville Elementary PTA, Erica Haller Photography, and Dance It Up Studios, we are already beginning to organize fund-raising events. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about specific events.
Like so many kids his age, Eli was both nervous and excited about starting school, and it is our sincere hope that this Foundation can work to help kids in a way that will make Eli proud of us all, in the same way that we were all so proud of him. My wife and I again want to thank everyone for their tremendous love and support during these difficult days, and we hope that you all will continue to support our efforts to honor the memory of our perfect, beautiful son, Eli Thomas Waller. We love you, little buggy!"
Hamilton Township has also set up a call center, which you can contact by dialing 609-586-0311.
LINK: List of symptoms of enterovirus from the CDC