A norovirus is the suspected culprit of a slew of illnesses suffered by employees and students who work and study at the newly constructed Ross School of Business cafeteria.
Authorities believe the outbreak began when one employee of the recently opened Siegle Café came to work with the illness and, due to its highly contagious nature, spread easily.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the illnesses of 13 workers in the café and 10 people who had eaten there were being linked to the norovirus outbreak based on their symptoms, which include mostly intestinal and stomach problems. None of the people who reported their illnesses to community health officials have been hospitalized as of Wednesday afternoon.
Terry Alexander, the executive director of the University’s Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health office, which oversees campus community health issues, said authorities got involved when there was a spike in the number of voluntarily reported illnesses in the area.
He said his team got to work Monday by interviewing the workers in the café and other patrons who had recently eaten there.
Two sanitarians went into the facility, Alexander said, and took samples of all the public surfaces in the Business School building. The samples were then sent to a testing lab for the state.
But Alexander said that OSEH officials didn’t want to wait for the results of the testing, so they closed down the café Monday night to clean it. They sanitized all the public spaces, public bathrooms and all other surfaces that people often touch in the building.
They also threw away all food products that potentially could have been contaminated.
After a team of inspectors re-evaluated the facility Tuesday, OSEH officials allowed the café to re-open.
Charles Amyx, the director of operations for the Business School, said the school will continue to sanitize the building every night for the next two weeks based on protocols outlined by the OSEH office.
Despite the ongoing sanitation efforts, Alexander said he’s satisfied that the outbreak was sufficiently contained.
“At this point we’re not seeing any new illnesses being reported,” he said. “We’re going to continue to stay on top of the cleaning for a number of weeks.”
Though authorities are still uncertain of the exact cause, Alexander said it was probably the result of one of the employees coming to work ill.
“Likely it was one of the workers,” he said. “Because workers became ill before people eating at the facility.”
Alexander said this likely has nothing to do with the Business School’s recent move to the new building.
“You see these things pop up wherever you have large gatherings of people and all you need is one person who is not feeling well,” he said.
A similar outbreak occurred about three years ago, Alexander said, in one of the residence halls on North Campus. He said that one was harder to contain because there was such a large population in such a small area.
According to an e-mail distributed to some members of the Business School community Monday night, Assistant Dean Graham Mercer writes that officials “are taking the conservative approach of treating this as a Norovirus outbreak.”
That e-mail message was delayed in reaching a portion of its intended audience due to “technical difficulties” and was only received by some members of the Business School community early Wednesday afternoon, two days after OSEH officials got involved.