Fall break boosts Nevada school custodians fight against norovirus

RENO, Nev. (AP) — School custodians spent hundreds of hours disinfecting surfaces to stem a norovirus outbreak that eventually reached 19 schools.

Fall break is credited with separating students and keeping contagious carriers from spreading the virus, with Stead Elementary School and Sparks High School still on outbreak status. Washoe County School District housekeeping operations manager Cindy Quaglia estimated a total cost of $180,000 for labor, extra supplies and contracting out to steam clean carpet.

Steam cleaning about 792,000 square feet of carpet cost roughly $103,000.

It took 140 people 2,279 hours to clean the schools from tabletop to pencil using an industrial disinfectant spray.

“A lot of it was overtime,” Quaglia said. “It’s been a task.”

Bus drivers, cooks and other district employees were asked to lend a hand.

“We just didn’t have enough bodies,” said Chris Cobb, the district’s chief facilities management officer. “When you have an outbreak, it takes things to a whole new level.”

North Valleys High School was one of the first hit by the virus and was one of the last to be taken off outbreak status. Head custodian Sonia Campos says workers’ daily routines were still busy in the weeks since a no new outbreaks had been reported.

Campos and her crew wiped down door handles, frames and repeatedly disinfected high-traffic areas each day. Still, Campos said the cleaning and disinfecting was no match for kids coming to school while contagious.

Norovirus symptoms include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. People can be contagious up to three days after they recover.

By November, after fall break, the virus was gone from many schools.

“The breaks always save us,” Quaglia said.

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