So many children and staff were out with stomach flu symptoms on Thursday – more than 250, about 25 percent – that the district made the unusual decision to close Orchard Park Middle School Friday.
“It’s an opportunity for us to say: Let’s get these kids home. Let’s get them well,” said Matthew McGarrity, school superintendent Thursday afternoon when the announcement went out to parents.
The school building at 60 South Lincoln Avenue will be cleaned and disinfected, along with school buses, he said.
A spokesman from the county health department said symptoms, like vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, were consistent with the norovirus.
The infectious illness, notorious for plaguing cruise ship passengers, has other names: viral gastroenteritis, food poisoning and stomach flu, the health department said. It can last a few days and lead to dehydration, but it is not considered serious as people recover without longterm health effects.
The best treatment is time and fluids, a county fact sheet said.
Infection can spread through contaminated food and drink, touching surfaces and direct contact with someone who has it or their fluids, such as the diapers of young children who have it.
People can be contagious for as long as two weeks after recovery. Washing hands is particularly important, according to the health department information.
At Orchard Park Middle School earlier this week, more people were out sick than usual. Wednesday the numbers climbed to about 15 to 20 percent of the school’s 130 staff and 1,300 students.
The school doctor, Gerald Lauria, reported a similar preponderance of sickness in his practice, McGarrity said.
While attendance levels at the four elementary schools and the high school were normal, all Middle School activities and sports are also canceled through Sunday.
“We really just see this as an opportunity to clear out that building and get all set for Monday,” said McGarrity, who has never canceled school for this reason in his six years on the job.