The Grapevine

Ursinus College Norovirus Outbreak: Over 200 Students Contract Virus That Causes Gastroenteritis

Ursinus
More than 200 students, faculty, and staff from Ursinus College contracted norovirus. Shaylor; CC by 2.0

After more than 200 students, faculty members, and staff from Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. fell ill with an unknown gastrointestinal illness, health officials have confirmed the cause of the illness is norovirus. The first student to report symptoms was seen by the campus’ Wellness Center on February 9. One week later, the Montgomery County Health Department has confirmed the highly contagious virus was the source of the outbreak. 

“This has been a difficult time for students and their families,” said Ursinus College President Brock Blomberg in a statement. “The safety and wellbeing of our students remains our top priority. We are committed to maintaining regular communication with the community and making students aware of all the medical care resources available to them. We are grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received from the surrounding community and beyond during this challenging time.”

A total of 22 students were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak and the school was forced to close its dining hall for a short time last Tuesday after initial reports of vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal pain came to light. Classes were also cancelled on Thursday and Friday in addition to all weekend activities. All events and classes resumed Monday morning.

 “Members of the campus community who develop symptoms should continue to contact the Wellness Center,” said Ursinus College Medical Director Dr. Paul Doghramji. “Anyone who has been ill should follow CDC Guidelines to prevent the virus from spreading. This includes practicing good hygiene, avoiding well people for a few days, and cleaning clothes, linens, and contaminated surfaces.”

Although the number of students, faculty members, and staff reporting symptoms has decreased significantly since last Tuesday, the college announced that it has hired on additional custodial staff and will continue “aggressive cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting efforts.” The college is also working with Jefferson University Hospital to offer all students free “video visits” with a Jefferson doctor up until February 29.

“At this time, the Health Department believes that Ursinus College administration and its staff have done everything they can do in terms of focusing on monitoring illness, promoting hand hygiene, conducting environmental disinfection and excluding ill food workers,” said Julie Paoline, division director of Communicable Disease Control, Montgomery County Health Department. “There are no additional recommendations from the Department at this time. This will need to run its course.”

In the wake of the incident, Montgomery County Health Department conducted an investigation into the school’s dining hall services on February 10. A report published online revealed multiple health code violations, including open pesticides near food, dead bugs, and unsanitary hand washing practices. A follow up investigation conducted the following day revealed no lingering violations. 

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