As stomach virus spread, students frustrated with late notice from college

Over 100 students from around campus have become ill with what is “likely” to be norovirus, according to Dr. Goldstein. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette Communications)

“It hit me like a train wreck.” This is how one of the many infected students described his symptoms of what is likely norovirus.

Stool tests performed on those who are ill haven’t confirmed this diagnosis, but Director of Health Services Dr. Goldstein said that norovirus is “likely” the culprit of the students’ symptoms, which include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. Resident Advisors on campus have reported 103 cases of students having contracted the debilitating stomach bug as of Wednesday evening, according to Goldstein, Director of Health Services.

Goldstein first notified the campus community about the virus in a campus-wide email sent Monday at 2:40 p.m., but didn’t name the illness as norovirus at that time.

Some students felt this email did not come soon enough. Haley Matthes ‘19 voiced her frustrations and warned students to be aware of the spread of the virus in a post in the Lafayette College Class of 2019 Facebook group on Feb. 2.

“I’m just tired of the school waiting for a campus-wide sickness to escalate to a point where they need to send out a bulletin [or] cancel classes,” Matthes said in a follow-up email.

Matthes was also upset that extended hours weren’t offered at Bailey Health Center.

Several students in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity have also had the virus. According to Mikey Burke ‘21, approximately 12 to 15 members of the fraternity had contracted the virus as of Tuesday, although he said he expected that number to grow.

I think it just spread really quickly throughout the house, it originated there and spread to a lot of the brotherhood. I live in McKeen and only hung out at the [Phi Psi] house for a couple hours…and got sick,” Burke said in an email.

Bobby Longo ‘21, another Phi Psi fraternity member to have the virus, said he believed the email warning on Monday was “too late.”

Norovirus is an extremely contagious stomach virus that spreads like wildfire. After the first or second case on campus we should have been notified… it ramps up as people go from class to class spreading it,” Longo said in an email.

According to Goldstein, his level of concern about the virus was raised when the health center began receiving phone calls and emails from concerned students and parents, as the health center was “not overwhelmed” by the number of students coming to Bailey about the virus. 

Goldstein said he wanted to find a “sweet spot” of not raising a level of hysteria but also communicating with the students. He decided to send the campus-wide email more based on “the feedback from students,” Goldstein said.

“I think what’s happening is students are self-treating and getting through this without needing to see a provider, but the numbers are pretty significant on campus. The students communicating with me was a good thing,” he said.

The last time an outbreak of norovirus hit campus was in March 2016, when two days of classes were canceled as a result. According to Goldstein, the number of students being affected by the virus is beginning to look similar to the numbers from the 2016 outbreak.

Last week, eight students visited Bailey Health Center on account of the stomach virus. On Monday, seven students visited and 14 students visited Tuesday. On Wednesday, 23 students had visited Bailey’s due to symptoms as of the afternoon.

According to Goldstein, the combined reports from resident advisors and Bailey total a little over 150, but Goldstein said there may be overlap among these reports, if for example, a student both went to Bailey and reported their illness to their RA.

While Goldstein said that the discussion of the school closing “hasn’t happened yet,” he believes certain social gatherings will be cancelled if the virus continues spreading rapidly. One event, the Lunar New Year dumpling making party hosted by ISA and ACA, was cancelled on Tuesday as a result of the spreading sickness.

Although there has been an increase in number of cases of the virus each day, Goldstein said the symptoms seem to be “slightly less severe” than those of the 2016 bug.

Symptoms of norovirus, according to the Center for Disease Control, include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. The stomach virus may also cause severe dehydration, and intravenous fluids (IV fluids) are in some cases necessary to replace one’s fluids, according to the CDC

“The good thing about it is that although its highly contagious, it’s not super innocuous or virulent, so it doesn’t hurt people to the extent that many other viruses do,” Goldstein said.

In an email from Dean of Advising Dr. Erica D’Agostino on Wednesday afternoon, D’Agostino explained that the need to obtain a Dean’s Excuse to miss class has been suspended temporarily as a result of the virus.

Preventative measures are also being taken by the college to prevent the continuous spread of the virus. For example, dining services announced it would be ceasing self-serving operations on Tuesday. According to Goldstein, Facilities Operations is also “stepping up their game” in regard to cleaning and sanitation.

The headline of this article was updated to reflect that cases of the stomach virus have begun to decline on campus as of Friday.

About Morgan Sturm

Morgan Sturm '19 is the Managing Editor for The Lafayette. She is a Policy Studies major and Spanish minor.

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