Facing norovirus, University didn’t blink

October 9, 2008

Too often Georgetown’s response to a campus crisis can be described in four words: too little, too late. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when the norovirus, a highly contagious disease marked by vomiting, diarrhea, and fever, hit campus last week. Hours after the first feverish student appeared in the Georgetown University Hospital emergency room, the administration jumped into action. Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson kept the Georgetown community informed with numerous email updates and press conferences, Facilities took steps to stem the spread of the virus, and a combination of departments provided support to those unlucky enough to have caught it. With the exception of Georgetown’s replacement dining options while Leo’s was closed, Georgetown’s administration deserves credit for its rapid, comprehensive response.

It took three weeks for Georgetown to notify the student body after a student was sent to the hospital last September following an alleged hate crime. Their response time to this ordeal couldn’t have been more different. At six in the morning on the day after 25 students visited the ER, Olson sent out a detailed email to the Georgetown community with advice for students who might be infected. The steady stream of information continued throughout the week, with multiple emails each day, information sessions, and giant red norovirus factsheets plastered across campus. Too often Georgetown students are forced to rely on word-of-mouth or the Hoya and the Voice for information in such situations, and the University’s constant updates and transparency were a welcome change.

Initially, Facilities got off on the wrong foot, refusing to clean vomit from the rooms of infected students, which was troubling for both the health implications and comfort. They reversed this policy soon enough, though, and in addition to cleaning individual students’ residences, they sanitized high traffic areas like Yates Field House, the Leavey Center, Lauinger Library, and even GUTS buses. 225 infected students may seem like a high number, but it would have doubtless been higher if not for Facilities’ actions.

The University’s material support has been tremendous as well. Since the outbreak, Facilities and Residence Life staff have provided over 1,200 bottles of hand soap, 2,000 bottles of Powerade, and 10,000 bottles of personal hand sanitizer to students. As an added benefit, Georgetown put $7.50 on the GoCards of all students living on campus for three free loads of laundry.

Little more could be asked in the way of tangible support from Georgetown—except at Leo’s, that is. Dining on campus is one area the University did not adequately address. It’s understandable that Georgetown’s initial answer to a shuttered Leo’s—Center Grill in Leavey—was less than ideal, with its long lines and lackluster selection. But for days after Leo’s reopened last Thursday, it was a shadow of its former self. Staff members served students, causing waits of 20 minutes or more for a single plate of food. Downstairs was closed and Grab & Go was dormant, leading to overcrowding. The beloved stir-fry station was shut down, as were the make-your-own pasta and pizza stations. In short, students weren’t getting what they paid for when they purchased a meal plan at the start of the school year. The administration can’t be blamed for this any more than it can be blamed for the spread of the norovirus, but Georgetown should reimburse students for their failure to provide sufficient dining options. Leo’s has since reverted to its pre-norovirus state mostly, with the exception of Grab & Go, which the University should reinstate as soon as possible.

Hopefully Georgetown will be spared from any similar unfortunate episodes in the future, but if any other campus crisis does occur, Georgetown’s administration should model their response on these past two weeks. The school reacted swiftly, comprehensively, and judiciously. This should be the norm, not the exception.

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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