UPDATE: University confirms norovirus in outbreak traced to South Quad

Thursday, February 18, 2016 - 5:04pm

Special precautions are being taken at South Quad and other University dining halls to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses.

Special precautions are being taken at South Quad and other University dining halls to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses. Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

 

The office of Public Affairs and the University Health Services confirmed Friday that the cause of the vomiting and diarrhea outbreak among University staff and students was the norovirus.

In regards to the more than 100 students are reported to have gone to receive treatment to date, Dr. Robert Winfield, the university's chief health officer, said the number of students getting infected may exceed the University's records.

"We believe that this number does not reflect the actual extent of the illness,  as students are generally following our advice to self-isolate in their rooms," Dr. Robert Winfield, the university's chief health officer, said. "As we head into the weekend and the number of social activities increase on campus, it is especially important for individuals to practice good hand hygiene and to avoid sharing food and drinks."

In a statement Monday, Winfield said he believes the outbreak has stabalized on campus. 

"We believe the outbreak has stabilized as just a handful of new cases were reported over the weekend," Winfield said. "The new cases were not concentrated in one specific area on campus." 

By Thursday afternoon, the number of cases of norovirus on campus had grown by an additional 30 cases on top of the 75-100 reported as of Wednesday according to Robert Winfield, executive director of the University of Michigan Health Services. 

Winfield said most cases from earlier in the week could be traced back to South and West Quad dining halls. However he noted the outbreak may have now spread beyond the dining halls.  

“It appears that most (cases) have been identified as at South and West Quads, but we’ve had as of yesterday — and I don’t know (the information as of) this morning — cases that have been seen in North Quad, Baits and Markley,” Winfield said. “Those are small numbers as far as I know. I really don’t have numbers with respect to housing, this is just what we’ve seen in health services.”

Dining hall attendance seems to have drastically decreased over the past few days, as demonstrated by a feature in the Michigan app that shows how full the dining halls are at any given moment.

However, Winfield said now there is no need for students to be concerned about eating at the dining halls. All of the food present in South Quad on Monday was taken away and the area has been extensively cleaned, according to Winfield.

“There’s something that seems it’s in common with South Quad and West Quad dining services, but we have cases where we can’t make that connection,” Winfield said. “Those foods are available to us for trying to identify source of illness, but they are gone from the service of food.”

In an e-mail to all LSA department chairs, to be shared with faculty members Thursday night, Monika R. Dressler, Director, LSA Instructional Support Services, provided protocol for if a student throws up or becomes sick in a classroom.

Protocol includes, “Have someone escort the student to University Health Services or, if the student is in severe distress, call 911. Call LSA Instructional Support Services 734-615-0100 immediately.  ISS staff will call Plant Operations to send out a cleaning crew.  LSA ISS and the Registrar’s Office will work to find alternate spaces for classes (if possible) until Building Services has had time to execute their cleaning protocol.”

In the email, Dressler confirmed at least one student has thrown up in a classroom so far. Have your students leave the room as best as they are able.

Winfield also noted that the number of cases being reported at this time are just rough estimates, saying that the University has encouraged students to avoid seeking medical services unless absolutely necessary, to avoid further spread of the illness. This has resulted in there being no reliable way of knowing for sure what percentage of those affected are coming in and what percentage are not seeking medical help.

“Now that the word is out, which is, ‘it’s going around’ and ‘don’t come in unless you need to,’ we really have no good way of grasping the total number,” Winfield said. “From that, we can say it is continuing, but we don’t know whether it’s continuing up, flattening out or starting to drop down, and we won’t be able to find that out from these numbers.”

The best treatment, he added, depends on how sick a student is.

 “We encourage people to start with ice chips if they’ve been vomiting, and then see if they can tolerate sips of water," he said.

Once a student can drink water, doctors suggest drinking liquids such as Gatorade to rehydrate. Winfield said it could take anywhere between a couple of hours up to three days for someone to start feeling better.

Over the past few days students have expressed concerns about the University's spread of the notification about the virus and ongoing efforts related to academic accommodations for sick students.

Engineering freshman Steven McPherson, also a resident of South Quad, said he would have preferred to be made aware of the illness sooner.

“ I really would have liked a notification e-mail earlier than two days after people started throwing up everywhere,” McPherson said.

Both McPherson and LSA freshman Cameron Misko said they found out about the illness from social media, particularly Yik Yak, and word of mouth.

Winfield said there were initial doubts about what was happening that justified the delay.

“I really wasn’t sure what was going on at first and perhaps overly cautious in getting out a communication before I understood what was going on,” Winfield said. “I was hesitant to communicate before I had a better sense of what was happening.”

Kim Broekhuizen, public affairs and media relations representative for Public Affairs, highlighted in an e-mail to the Daily that the University e-mail to students specified that students who were affected by the illness should isolate themselves until they are without symptoms for 48 hours.

The Office of the Provost has also released an e-mail to deans, encouraging faculty members to be flexible with regard to accommodating students who report being ill and would be unable to attend class, take exams or turn in assignments, Broekhuizen said.

“We are still waiting for test results to confirm whether the outbreak is norovirus,” Broekhuizen wrote. “That information is expected tomorrow afternoon or Monday.”

Professors of Stats 250, the most enrolled-in course on campus, released an e-mail Thursday specifying special midterm accommodations for students who are sick or who feel they may be sick. Reports of similar emails have been confirmed in various University classes.

“If you have experienced the symptoms that have been reported ... in the past few days and have not felt well for two days past the experience of these symptoms, do not attend Exam 1 this evening,” the e-mail read. “We do not want you to have to take the exam while ill and do not want to expose students who would not otherwise be exposed to this illness.”

Amir Baghdadchi, director of communications for University Housing, said the most crucial thing sick students can do is isolate themselves from others.

“We have to remember that illnesses like this are extremely contagious,” Baghdadchi said. “We’re encouraging students to stay in their rooms and avoid going to classes. If you want to get well, until 48 hours after you feel those symptoms, you should stay in your room.”

Baghdadchi acknowledged that many students, especially those sick, are concerned about getting their meals.

“Students are using Feel-better meals, and what the students sick can do, is they can actually work with a friend to order that meal and then have that friend deliver it for them,” Baghdadchi said. “We’re making this as available as we can for all the students who have meal plans who live in the halls.”

For students who are not affected, Baghdadchi agreed with Winfield and said there is little reason to hesitate going to the dining halls.

“Those who aren’t ill will find when they go to the dining halls that we have stepped up cleaning procedures across our system, in all residence halls and in all dining centers,” Baghdadchi said. “We are, across all residence hall bathrooms and all dining halls, using a higher level protocol for cleaning. Extra measures are being taken to keep it safe.”

There are indicators that this is not a foodborne illness but a viral-based illness, Baghdadchi added.

“We are using this special higher-level protocol, where we use cleaning agents approved by the federal government that targets specifically norovirus,” Baghdadchi said. “The intensity of cleaning is much greater and it’s actually designed to target this kind of outbreak.”

Jeff Bogos, kitchen manager at Au Bon Pain said the staff at Au Bon Pain has been working to maintain cleaning procedures and has brought in extra hand sanitation.

"We don't want that to spread any worse than it already has," Bogos said.

Because produce at Au Bon Pain is ordered daily, Bogos said the restaurant has been ordering extra food to keep up with the high demands.

"We're up probably 40 to 50 percent (in sales)," Bogos said. "The feedback from the students is they don't want to eat (at South Quad) and I don't blame them."

Sick students have also complained about having difficulty getting in contact with their professors and getting special accommodations, particularly for midterms.

“The University is communicating all across faculty and through the Record and many channels so that all faculty and instructors know that this is going on on campus, and this is what students are dealing with,” Baghdadchi said.

LSA freshman Kyra Jamison lives in West Quad and said she knows two people who have been affected by the suspected norovirus.

“One of them went to UHS,” Jamison said, adding she later decided to go home to Sterling Heights to recover. “The other one said she didn’t want to walk there so she’s staying in her room all day.”

Misko who lives in South Quad, said the majority of his hall has been experiencing telltale symptoms of the norovirus.

“A lot of friends from my hall (got sick),” Misko said. “One of them did (go to UHS), but most of the other ones are just trying to handle it on their own. They are isolating themselves.”

For students who have not yet caught the illness, yet live with roommates who are sick, Misko said from what he has seen, many people are trying to avoid their roommates. However, considering close quarters, Misko noted it seemed impossible to avoid the illness completely.

Freshman Javin Etchison, who studies exercise science at Washtenaw Community College and works at South Quad dining hall, said the dining hall has been making adjustments based on the recent outbreak.

“We’re still preparing the same food, just a little more cautiously, a lot more washing hands, changing gloves,” Etchison said. “Instead of students being able to grab the food themselves, we serve the food to them, so they can’t touch food and put it back.”