Containing the Contagion: Rider attempts to prevent spread of norovirus

By Katie Zeck and Rachel Stengel

A cumulative total of 186 students have been infected with the norovirus since the outbreak began on Feb. 8, according to Dan Higgins, executive director of University Communications.

In an attempt to prevent cross contamination between possibly infected students and food served in Dalys, Aramark staff use trays as a barrier against the highly contagious norovirus.

New cases of the virus continue to decrease slowly as only 22 cases have been confirmed on the Lawrenceville campus this week.
Although three students on the Westminster Choir College’s (WCC) campus were reported as exhibiting symptoms of the virus, no cases at WCC have been confirmed.
Rider is trying to curb the spread of the virus through newly instituted prevention methods and normal day-to-day activities.
Rider has officially deemed the norovirus the cause of the widespread illness that has plagued campus beginning Feb. 8. The source of the virus remains unknown because of the very contagious nature of the illness, according to University Communications. Outbreaks have also been reported statewide, making the virus non-exclusive to Rider and the surrounding areas.
According to  The College of New Jersey’s (TCNJ) Associate Vice President for Communications and College Relations Matt Golden, seven to eight cases of norovirus-like symptoms have been reported but the students have not tested positive for the norovirus.
Following discussion with state and local health officials, Rider did not cancel classes or campus events.
“We’ve been meeting with the state, county and local departments of health on a daily basis since Thursday [Feb. 9],” Campbell said. “We’re working very closely with all of them. There has not been a recommendation to close campus or cancel classes from them so we’re proceeding that way.”
Some students reacted negatively to the decision to continue with classes and events as scheduled.

Another precautionary measure taken by Aramark is individually wrapping each piece of fruit to prevent contamination.

“I’m aggravated classes weren’t cancelled,” said sophomore Lark Stagnitto. “That just [means] more and more [people are] getting sick. I love how Dalys is now sanitizing everything. They should’ve done this from day one.”
According to the State of New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, in order to verify the diagnosis of a gastrointestinal illness, at least two laboratory confirmed cases are required to validate the source of an outbreak.
“There were five samples and five out of five came back [positive as the norovirus],” said Dean of Students Anthony Campbell. “So that’s good. We know what we’re dealing with.”
With the continuation of a normal schedule, Rider made sure to take new precautions to prevent further spread of the virus, specifically at Dalys and the faculty dining hall on Monday.
“We’re going to protocol the dining halls [just for the duration of the virus] where there’s no self-serve so that we can keep cross contamination from students to the food at a minimum,” Campbell said.

No changes to the dining services at Cranberry’s or the Bronc Diner have been instituted because staff serving is already in place at the two facilities, Higgins said.
Sophomore Marcella Scalise said she is not a fan of the new serving system.
“I honestly don’t like that Dalys is no longer self-serve,” Scalise said. “Sure, it’s more sanitary, but it’s annoying. It takes even longer for me to get my food in between classes than it did before.”
Sophomore Dan McSwain thinks the new serving system will help prevent the spread of the virus.
“I like the fact that the food quality has been noticeably better since there is no longer self-serve,” McSwain said. “That’s a definite plus, along with the fact that it minimizes the amount that any germs, norovirus or otherwise, can be spread.”
In addition to the new dining service protocol, about 2,000 personal hand sanitizers were distributed across the two campuses; however, they are not an adequate replacement for hand washing, Campbell said.
Hand washing is key to the prevention of the norovirus because it is transferred through infected surfaces.
“It is not an airborne virus,” Campbell said. “It is transmitted by touching, touching your hands [to a contaminated surface] then putting your hands into your mouth, your nose or your eyes.”
Students are advised to return home to recuperate whenever possible. Ill students and their roommates should notify Residence Life staff, who will ensure UNICCO cleans and sanitizes their room, Higgins said.
Senior Marissa DiPilla said that she became very cautious after she heard of the virus outbreak.
“I’m kind of a hypochondriac, so I went home and washed my hands a lot more,” she said. “I tried to open doors with my sleeve, and didn’t share anything with anyone at all.”
In addition to sanitation precautions, the Health Center has added additional beds and has remained available for 24-hour care since last Thursday.
“There are four new beds at the Health Center, so that’s a total of eight,” Higgins said. “We still have Conover set up with 12 beds as overflow when we need it. That has not been necessary since we moved everything over to the Student Health Center [on Monday].”
Despite efforts to avoid spread of the virus, a few members of the Canisius women’s basketball team became ill after they played at the Rider home game last Friday, according to Terry Zah, head coach of the Canisius women’s basketball team.
“We had eight people in my travel party who got sick in the days following the game,” Zah said. “I believe there were some other parents, but I don’t have a firm number on that.”
According to Canisius’ Dean of Students Dr. Terri L. Mangione, a gastrointestinal illness is present at the college, but he did not confirm whether or not it is the norovirus.
“This time of year there are many viral illnesses circulating in communities and on college campuses,” Mangione said. “The Student Health Center and the Department of Athletics confirms we are seeing viral illnesses of these types among our students and athletes. Cases this year are similar to what has been seen in previous winter months.”
Canisius officials declined to verify whether these students became ill as a result of attending the game against Rider last Friday.
The University responded to the incident stating that passing on the virus to another school is something it absolutely regrets. Higgins declined to comment further on the issue.
Since the incident, Rider has instituted a new policy that restricts ill students from playing or participating in a game for at least 72 hours after experiencing symptoms of the virus. Opponent colleges are also being informed of the policy, according to Higgins.
Senior Kevin Noon said that the new policy will benefit the team ultimately, since the loss of three players and two student managers for the men’s basketball team.
“From an athletics standpoint, I think it’s a good policy,” Noon said. “You don’t want anyone on the team getting sick when you’re in season. It hurts us that we lost some key players, but at the same time it’s good to know that no one else on the team is going to be sick.”
The university encourages students to practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus and to avoid sharing drinks, food, utensils or cups.
For more updates on the norovirus, be sure to visit
www.theridernews.com.

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