Outbreak Communication Issues and UHS Response

Since Monday, over 120 students have reported to University Health Services suffering from symptoms of food poisoning. The vast majority of these students had recently eaten at the Chipotle in Cleveland Circle. While the outbreak was initially suspected to be E. coli, UHS has now confirmed the presence of norovirus.

10 of the students who have reported symptoms are members of the men’s basketball team. On Monday morning at 9:38 a.m., all student-athletes received an email from Maria Knoerr, an athletic administration staff assistant, informing them about the possible outbreak and advising them to avoid eating at Chipotle. At 3:28 p.m., the general student population received a health alert from Dr. Thomas Nary, director of UHS.

The delay between notifying athletes and the rest of the student population demonstrates an initial mishandling of communication. If the possible outbreak had been confirmed strongly enough that all of the student-athletes could be informed, then warning the entire student population should have been treated with the same immediacy.

Although the men’s basketball team has been seriously affected by this outbreak, the information applies to every member of the Boston College community. When it comes to issues of student health, spreading the information as quickly and far as possible and protecting all students from potential exposure to disease should be the University’s number one priority.

Throughout this situation, UHS, in its final year in the Cushing Hall basement, performed well under high stress and without the ideal resources to handle a sudden outbreak. As Health Services waits for next year’s opening of the new, larger infirmary in the basement of 2150 Commonwealth Ave., it had to make do with an inadequate amount of space while dealing with the influx of sick students. With only a 10-bed facility and normally only one doctor on call, the rush of around 120 patients experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms over a short period of time proved a challenge that seems to have been handled well under the circumstances. UHS did well to continue to inform the student body effectively via email to disseminate the progressing information about the disease. In addition, BC Dining Services has foregone self-service items, with the intention of reducing the spread of the disease.

The need for the new health services facility is clearer now than ever and its opening will be a positive step for BC as a whole, making the community better prepared for the possibility of future large-scale health issues.

 Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Staff

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