A look back in time: Rider University’s run in with the Norovirus

By. Ankit Choubey

Lawrenceville, N.J. – With the year coming to a close and many students, professors, and other faculty stressing out over many of the formalities that must take place in order to close out the academic year properly, and with that the changing weather patterns of new jersey cause many people to fall sick during this time of year. It was not to recent when Rider University was faced with a daunting task presented in the form of the Norovirus.

Norovirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis, which causes a persons stomach, intestines and other digestive tract organs to become inflamed. A person that has the virus exhibits many symptoms, which range from normal upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. The virus is highly contagious and can infect anyone person at any given time. The virus is spread through contaminated food, water, contaminated surfaces, and people that have the virus.

The Norovirus outbreak at Rider University affected close to 200 students within a short time frame of ten days. The outbreak had started on February 8th and spread quickly like wildfire amongst the Lawrenceville campus.

“There wasn’t really a lot preplanning, especially since it was a rapid outbreak, said Vickie Weaver, director of Public Safety, who also added that “…drawing from past experiences it really helped us prepare.”

The rapid succession of events lead to the hospitalization of many affected students. The office of public safety and student health services set up an auxiliary overflow clinic with 12 beds in Conover residence hall on the other side of the campus. “The shift manager noticed same symptoms kept showing up amongst students,” explained Weaver, “…he communicated quickly with first responders and other colleagues.”

When asked about how the outbreak changed the landscape of the student health office, director Lynn Eiding said that, “It hit us hard and hit us fast, we had to be here 24/7 and our staff wanted to really help students that were here during the day that showed symptoms.” She also added that, “there was a lot of activity that was taking place, the university uses a national response frame work when responding to events like this.

The virus’s outbreak also showed up during the time where many cases of the influenza would have shown up through out the campus. As a response the university enacted an onslaught of sanitation through out the campus. Dining halls had signs displaying that every table was cleaned and sanitized. The main dining hall on campus, Dalys Dinning hall, prohibited self-serving of food and had many of the staff members serving students food as a precautionary measure.

In addition to restricting the way students were served their food, dining halls resorted to barricading the food in addition to the sneeze guard that were already in place to protect the food with lunch trays. Students were given bottles of hand sanitizer and instructed to keep clean and wash their hands in order to prevent the escalation of the situation. Cleaning crews were kept on standby for rapid clean up if a student got sick in the midst of students. The cleaning service staff, UNICCO, were also instructed to be especially meticulous in the way they were supposed to clean to not only protect themselves but the individuals that use the facilities. Students that lived on campus were also instructed to let Resident hall staff know if they or a roommate were sick or showing signs of the virus so cleaning staff could come in and thoroughly clean their rooms to further reduce the chance of spreading the virus and so the affected individual(s) could be treated.

“We were very fortunate about having students washing their hands, some students went home, which helped in slowing down the spread of the virus. Professors for the most part were lenient in the sense that they didn’t force students to show notes of their absences,” explained Eiding.

When asked to comment on the protocol followed during the time the health services director had the following to say, “We drew from the H1N1 protocol, and we made some adjustments. She also added that, “we work with a collaborating physician; we wrote a protocol that had to be approved by the physician. There was a specific assessment that was given to each student and each student was assessed an hour or so later after they came to us.”

The university’s communication department kept students, staff informed of any developments through out the situation on a regular basis. Along with the university’s communication department, many news channels reported on the outbreak through out the first few days of the event, some of the channels include WABC New York and Fox News from Philadelphia, even the news media giant CNN reported the case. Both Student Health Services and Public Safety directors stressed that communication played key role through out the duration of the outbreak.

With many things going on during the first few days the two offices that handled the situation at hand in full stride. Eiding had explained how, “There was such a quick response, public safety saw the same symptoms that kept showing up in more than a few students which drew some attention to the situation. The students and cleaning crew were really instrumental in preventing the spread of the virus.”

Eiding also added that, “we saw a large number of kids initially, it was weird because we saw a lot of kids at one night with the same symptoms.”

Looking back at what the university as a community had to deal with; Director Weaver commented by saying, “I think it was a professional, well organized response. I commend all the responders as well as the students.” Director Eiding also added by saying, “We had all the food service people on board. Public safety was on point, they really should get the gold star for their response to the situation.” and that, “administration was on top of the whole situation also.” Both office directors agree that all of the staff within their individual offices handled this outbreak in a well-organized and professional manner, and draw from their past experiences to make subtle improvements to an already flawless university emergency/medical emergency response team.

Links:

http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/index.html

http://www.rider.edu/student-life/health-wellness/student-health-services

http://www.rider.edu/publicsafety

http://www.theridernews.com/2012/02/16/containing-the-contagion-rider-attempts-to-prevent-spread-of-norovirus/

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