Six days ago, Food Poisoning News reported that University Health Service at the University of Rochester released a statement that the “total number of students from River Campus and the Eastman School of Music reporting [Norovirus] symptoms [was] 60.” Despite extensive efforts to prevent the spread of the virus and additional new cases through continued sanitization, the statement released by the University six days later confirmed that the number of “Norovirus-like cases [as of the 16th was 120], with still 5 total reported cases at Eastman School of Music.
Rapid Increase in Case Count; One Student Hospitalized
During the night and early morning following the outbreak update detailing measures the University was taking to prevent spread of the virus, University Health Service issued an update stating that 20 new cases were reported during that period alone, with the majority reported on River Campus. Some of those cases sought treatment in the emergency room, and one student was admitted to the hospital.
The fact that Rochester characterized the increase of approximately 20 cases overnight as “not…a huge spike” is indicative of how rapidly and the ease with which the virus spreads.
The University response to the continued increase in cases resulted in the implementation of a few additional measures. The main new measure put into place by the University was the transition by Dining Services “to plastic wrapped utensils and napkins.” In addition, the University suspended the use of self-service operations on the River Campus and closed the Faculty Club until further notice.
The increase in cases began to slow between the 13th and April 14th, with only 8 additional cases reported since the prior day’s message (bringing the total to 95). The majority of new cases reported continued to be on the River Campus. The update issued on the 14th focused mainly on measures being implemented by the University for the annual “Dandelion Day,” and urged students to continue with disinfecting procedures.
The following day, the number of additional cases seemed to be increasing at a higher rate, as 21 new cases had been reported since the afternoon prior. “The total number of reported student cases since the tracking of this illness began this past weekend is 116,” the University report stated.
“University officials, as well as the Monroe County Health Department, believe the extensive sanitation work being performed by University Facilities, ServPro and students is the most effective way to address this outbreak, but these actions must continue in order to constantly reduce the presence of the Norovirus. Both UHS and the county health department are closely monitoring the trends of this illness,” the report continued.
Declining Number of New Cases Leads to Gradual Disengagement of University Officials
On April 16th, the total number of Norovirus cases was marked at 120, an increase of only 4 from the day before. UHS Director Dr. Manchester noted that “the number of new cases [was] starting to decline” and “the broad sanitization efforts are working to reduce exposure to the virus.”
While the release did advise students to “keep sanitizing their living spaces and belongings” and stated that “University Facilities and ServePro staff [would be] working throughout the weekend and [the following week] to disinfect areas throughout River Campus and the Eastman School of Music,” University officials also advised the student body that the email updates to the “University community may switch from daily frequency to being issued at times when important new information needs to be conveyed.”
Search for the Source: Identifying the Cause of the Outbreak
Throughout the outbreak, University officials alluded to the fact that they believed the illnesses were not caused by a common food source, but there was no definitive conclusion that this was the case. In the University’s penultimate release (to date), officials went so far as to explicitly state this belief, saying “much work has been done in an attempt to identify the source of this illness outbreak and there are absolutely no indications that it started with food or any of the dining facilities. The University [will continue] to work with the Monroe County Public Health Department to determine a source.”
It is important to note, however, that while there is no evidence that the outbreak spread through food or a dining establishment, there may well be no evidence to the contrary either. The source of norovirus outbreaks are particularly hard to isolate, and the ultimate conclusion – if one is reached – may be contrary to current beliefs.