(Fox News) – CDC Director Robert Redfield declared that the agency is “fairly confident” schools will remain open despite a large outbreak of gastrointestinal illness at public schools across the country, and even warned that more large outbreaks may be ahead.
The first travel alert went into effect Friday for Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Gaithersburg and Ashburn, Virginia — all areas with several schools where the illness has been reported — but has been expanded across the country.
More than 4,000 students have been out sick in schools across 13 states as of Tuesday, according to the CDC, and health officials say several strains of norovirus can be found in the area.
The CDC began seeing cases in parts of the country about a month ago, and spokesman Joe Lowe said that the number of reported cases are increasing.
Redfield said that the Centers for Disease Control is working closely with schools and health departments to bring the outbreak under control.
“We’re working with our partners at schools, local and state public health departments. Unfortunately, when outbreaks like this happen, people tend to see them as a private crisis,” he said. “We see these more as a public health crisis in which we have multiple consequences and damage.”
Lowe added that CDC is working to “prevent the spread” and that “we’re going to keep on working on it. We will probably see more of these.”
However, Redfield cautioned that the outbreak may be more widespread than the CDC has made public, adding that more outbreaks are expected.
“As a public health officer who spends every single day working to prevent disease, I feel pretty confident that schools will remain open, but I also want you to be cautious and understand the signs of an outbreak. We do expect more outbreaks of foodborne illness this summer. We need to be prepared,” he said.
Lowe said that CDC is “pleased” with the efforts of public health departments and is confident that schools will remain open.
He added that while schools may not be the site of the most recent outbreaks, schools and their staffs are often exposed to people who may carry the virus when they make food delivery, pick up trash or interact with students.