Flu season is upon us. With the cold weather comes the ready spread of nasty germs from student to student. However, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Jason Shaffer’s email Sunday morning warned the community of not only the flu but also of the “norovirus outbreak” here on campus.
Norovirus, the attachment on Shaffer’s email stated, is a “highly contagious gastrointestinal illness characterized by nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.” Instructions to frequently wash hands followed this description, alongside guidelines for infected persons.
Davidson is not alone in facing this outbreak. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, every year, about 685 million cases of norovirus are reported globally. It is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States. In serious cases, norovirus can even be fatal.
An estimated 50,000 child deaths from norovirus are reported every year, nearly all of which occur in developing countries. The virus cannot be treated with an antibiotic because it is not bacterial. Furthermore, there is no norovirus vaccine currently.
When Shaffer was asked about his email, he remarked that his intentions were to “get time-sensitive information out to the student body, so they [sic] were aware of what had been reported to [him].” His priority was to share important information that students needed to stay in or regain good health.
He stated that, besides information sharing, RLO also seeks to support individual students as needed. He qualified the inquiry by concluding that a flu and gastrointestinal illness breakout occurs every year, usually around this time. Shaffer reasoned that this information was provided to him by Davidson’s expert on health-related information, Jan Poole, a Registered Nurse and the Assistant Director of Student Health.
Similarly, PA-C Suzanne Brown stated that she herself was uninvolved due to the fact that she was out of town during the time of the outbreak and subsequently was unable to comment because she was not working at Student Health Center.
The infected students were largely members of eating house Warner Hall House. Warner President Claire Thompson ’19 attested that Warner House got shut down because the stomach bug outbreak was reported to the Davidson College Health Center. Warner outbreaks hit a quota for stomach-related illnesses, so it had to be reported to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Health Department. Their protocol requires locations with illness outbreaks to close down for 48 hours. Warner closed Sunday night (2/11) and reopened Wednesday (2/14). Meal service resumed that Thursday (2/15).
Furthermore, Thompson remarked that two women in the house had confirmed cases of norovirus. She said 10-12 other women had low-grade stomach bugs. These women typically reported throwing up for about two hours and then feeling fine the next day. Although rumors presumed Warner’s chef to be the source of the outbreak, Thompson commented that this was unlikely.
“It most likely did not come from the food. Rather, a girl in the house probably had it and spread it to another member who spread it to another member, etc. That weekend was self-selection, and we all had a big dinner together Tuesday for House Meeting, so there was a lot of togetherness the week/weekend it hit,” she reported.
Warner House member Anne Ridenhour ’21 stated that because she is a first-year, only eating one meal at the house per week, she was not largely affected by the shutdown. Ridenhour then remarked, “I’m glad everything is figured out and cleaned.” She acknowledged, however, the rumors and stigma that arose because of the shutdown.
Rose Botaish ’20, facetiously referring to the outbreak as “the plague,” seconded the notion of relief regarding the reopening of the house. “Although it was inconvenient to lose meals for the week,” Botaish stated, “I think E-board did a great job handling the situation and making sure we got food.”
Patterson Court Council Advisor Erica Urban never responded to inquiries about the PCC’s involvement on fighting the norovirus outbreak.
Fortunately, it seems as though the sunshine and warm weather are starting to propitiate good health. Seemingly, the worst of the outbreak is behind us—that is, until next year.