Cafeteria food sickens 96

By:
10/02/2008

By the time Neil McGroarty (NHS `12) had staggered to the Georgetown University Hospital emergency room at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, there were no doctors available to treat him. Hospital staff were already swamped by dozens of students who had arrived earlier that evening showing signs of acute gastroenteritis. So McGroarty—who had begun to feel debilitating stomach cramps after eating a sandwich from the University cafeteria—sat in the crowded hospital waiting room as some students waiting around him projectile vomited onto the floor.

“I know that some people in the waiting room had been there for three hours. There was a boy yelling ‘help me, help me!’ but there were no doctors,” Kathrin Verestoun (SFS `11), who accompanied her roommate to the emergency room, said. “They ran out of rooms and set up stretchers in the hall. Some people were so dehydrated that they couldn’t find their veins for IVs. They were just bleeding. [My roommate] bled all over her stretcher.”

As of Wednesday night, 96 students had been treated by the Georgetown University Hospital or the Student Health Center for gastroenteritis. The first patients began to have symptoms of gastroenteritis on Tuesday evening. The D.C. Department of Health will not be certain of the source of their illness for a few weeks, but when he spoke to reporters in the Leavey Center on Wednesday afternoon, Todd Olson, the Vice President of Student Affairs, said that the “clear common denominator” among all sick students was that they had dined at Georgetown’s Leo O’Donovan Cafeteria.

Georgetown administrators and the D.C. Department of Health said they would not yet speculate as to whether students contracted a food-borne illness from Leo’s. Together, they have launched an investigation into the cause of the illnesses.

Leo’s has been cited for health code violations in the past several inspections. A Food Establishment Inspection Report obtained by the Voice through a Freedom of Information Act request reveals that in June, the D.C. Bureau of Community Hygiene determined that Leo’s’ handwashing facilities were not up to code. According to the report, sinks used for hand-washing in the service area lacked handsoap.

Since receiving the first call they received at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service increased the number of people they keep on staff per hour from four to 10. While they usually receive one to two calls in an overnight period, Taylor Burkholder (MSB `09), the director of public relations for GERMS, said that as of 2:00 p.m. yesterday GERMS had received 35 calls from students who were “vomiting, nauseous, dehydrated, or had diarrhea.”

The actual number of students who have fallen ill may be higher than reported. Interviews revealed that many students who fell ill did not seek medical help, like Katie O’Niell (COL `11), who began to vomit about three hours after eating a burrito at Leo’s.

“I didn’t feel like I could make it any further than from my bed to the bathroom,” she said.

When they fell ill, roommates Adha Mengis (COL `11) and Will McMahon (MSB `11) both decided to “tough it out,” Mengis said, even though McMahon was violently ill.

Resident assistants said they have encouraged students on their floors to call GERMS if they felt the symptoms of gastroenteritis, hoping to encourage students who were not seeking medical attention to do so.

The foods eaten by the ill students varied widely, from Grab N’ Go’s Hoya Wraps and roast beef sandwiches to make-your-own pasta and burritos.

Yesterday in the Leavey Center, students could use their meal plans to get food from the Center Grill. Meanwhile, food was scarce at Vital Vittles, where employee Laura Tubridy (COL `10) said that they had run out of sandwiches by 11 a.m. and were low on most microwaveable meals. On Wednesday night at Wisey’s Grill, the wait for a cold sandwich was an hour.

Leo’s will remain closed for an indefinite period of time.

“We will not reopen Leo’s until we know what is at issue,” Olson said.

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Molly Redden


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