Norovirus continues to spread

Two additional facilities in San Mateo County have reported residents sick with the easily communicable norovirus, bringing the number of cases countywide to at least 130.

The new infections follow an announcement from the San Mateo Medical Center late Monday that it was not taking any new patients into its 1A long-term care facility because a total of 11 staff members and 12 patients have been infected with the virus since Dec. 6.

Two more staff members at the hospital were told not to come in when they said they had potential symptoms of the sickness, spokesman Dave Hook said.

The outbreak of the common virus, which causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, began at Bonnie Brae Terrace, a Belmont independent-living facility with 164 residents who share a dining room and communal gathering places. The facility was quarantined by the San Mateo County Health Department on Dec. 8 after 85 cases of norovirus were reported. Sixty-six people have recovered and 19 are still sick.

The newly reported infections are in a mixed-assisted and independent living facility and a skilled nursing facility. County health officials declined to identify the facilities, which have voluntarily placed residents under quarantine.

Noroviruses have always been around, said Dr. Alvaro Garza, the deputy health officer for San Mateo County’s Health Department, and it usually is spread around in groups of friends and families.

San Mateo County had 123 reported cases of norovirus in 2004 and 166 in 2005. There was a large jump to 320 cases reported between January and April of this year, mostly due to increased awareness and increased testing, Garza said.

“It’s not any more serious than it’s ever been,” Garza said.

The first reported case of the virus in the current outbreak was Nov. 23, County Health Department spokeswoman Beverly Thames said, but the threat is dwindling because of the current restrictions.

People infected with the virus are contagious as soon as they start feeling ill until three days after recovery. Some can be contagious for as long as two weeks after recovery.

Noroviruses have made national headlines in recent years as people have been infected while on cruises or in schools.

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