Vancouver Public Schools’ spate of illnesses continued Friday, with dozens of students out sick at four elementary schools.
A large number of students at Truman, Harney, Walnut Grove and Washington elementary schools were reportedly sick this week with a variety of symptoms, including coughing, sneezing and other flulike symptoms. Students have also reported vomiting and diarrhea associated with viral gastroenteritis.
All four schools were cleaned and disinfected Saturday.
At Harney Elementary School, 3212 E. Evergreen Blvd., 96 students were reported absent Friday. The school has 650 students. District staff sent a message to parents at Harney, advising they keep ill children at home until they’re well for a full 24 hours, and that everyone wash their hands, particularly before preparing food and eating, and after using the toilet.
At Truman Elementary School, 4505 N.E. 42nd Ave., 88 of the school’s approximately 520 students were out Friday.
At Walnut Grove, 6103 N.E. 72nd Ave., 91 of the school’s approximately 750 students were out sick. Washington Elementary, 2908 S St., also saw high absentee rates Friday, with 65 of the school’s 330 students out. Only 40 described various symptoms of illness, however.
School districts are required to alert Clark County Public Health when 10 percent or more of their student body is absent due to gastroenteritis or flulike symptoms, or when two or more students in the same classroom are out with vomiting and diarrhea. District spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said the school district is working with the agency.
Public Health spokeswoman Marissa Armstrong said it’s not unusual for school districts to report such elevated numbers of absent students this time of year. The county’s communicable disease team responded to 50 cases of elevated rates of viral gastroenteritis and influenzalike illness incidents in 2017, and 37 in 2018.
Widespread illness has closed schools in the Pacific Northwest this fall. Seattle’s Leschi Elementary School was closed Friday after more than 100 of the school’s 376 students reported they had norovirus, which causes nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. In Oregon, the entire Greater Albany Public Schools district shut down in November after students and staff also contracted the stomach virus.
State law allows the county health officer to take steps to control the spread of disease, including closing schools or canceling activities. That hasn’t happened in Clark County, and neither the district nor Clark County Public Health are actively discussing doing so at this time.
“Our best recommendation is for kids to stay home when sick, but we are not currently discussing closing schools,” Armstrong said.
While any tummy bug tends to fall under the catch-all nickname “stomach flu,” the phrase is actually a misnomer. Viral gastroenteritis and influenza, or the flu, are separate diseases with different symptoms. So while a flu shot can protect from influenza, it cannot protect from viral gastroenteritises.
“Staying home when sick and using good hygiene practices … can help protect you from these and other illnesses circulating this time of year,” Armstrong said.