School district shuts down to combat rapidly spreading virus

Valley School District 51 in Grand Junction Colo.

On Wednesday, school district nursing coordinator Tanya Marvin said it appeared a second virus has also emerged.

Mesa County Valley School District 51, the 14th largest school district in the USA state of Colorado, has announced that its schools will not reopen until after next week's Thanksgiving holiday due to an "extremely contagious" virus.

All 46 schools will be shut down on Thursday, Nov. 21, and Friday, Nov. 22, in a Grand Junction school district as an unknown virus continues to spread among students and district employees.

During the closing, the custodial crews of the school district will work to disinfect the schools.

Health officials are encouraging everyone to wash their hands, not share personal items and to stay home from school and other public places for at least 24 hours after your symptoms stop.

"The decision to close is the right move", Mesa County Public Health Executive Director Jeff Kuhr said in a statement.

"The combination of the two has created an unprecedented spread of illness", Marvin said in a statement.

Forty Colorado schools are closed now until next month following the outbreak of an unidentified, highly contagious virus that has caused a "significant" number of students and staff to fall ill.

MCPH says that it does not track each individual case and is unclear as to what percentage of staff and students are impacted, but notes that this illness is unique in its rapid onset of symptoms and high level of contagion.

The Mesa County Valley School District 51 in Grand Junction, Colo., is pictured in a Google Maps Street View image dated June 2018.

"We understand that a district-wide closure is an inconvenience to families and a rare step to take", Superintendent Diana Sirko said in a statement Wednesday.

Norovirus is a highly contagious bug that causes diarrhea, vomiting and other symptoms. "Of course, this is something we're keeping a close eye on".

School district spokesperson Emily Shockley told TIME that over 3,400 students were absent from school this week, prior to the closure. County health officials have said they are still working to determine the illness.