Going Viral: Health Services, Dining React To University Norovirus Epidemic

As of Wednesday morning, 120 Boston College students have been infected with the Norovirus, a highly contagious virus that is the most common cause of gastrointestinal disease in the U.S. The origins of the virus have been linked to a Chipotle employee who served BC students at the restaurant’s location in Cleveland Circle.

The University has begun to take steps to address the influx of infected students and prevent the spread of the virus. Director of Health Services Thomas Nary sent out an email to students and faculty on Wednesday afternoon with guidelines and recommendations on how to stop the spread of the illness. Norovirus is spread through contaminated food, improper hygiene, and contact with contaminated surfaces.

Wednesday’s email suggests that students who feel symptomatic stay hydrated, well-rested, and eat small meals. Health Services recommends that students do not take antibiotics or over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication, as those treatments will only prolong the symptoms. The virus should pass without medical treatment within 24 to 48 hours, Nary said in the email.

“I went to Chipotle on Sunday night,” Ryan White, MCAS ’19, said. “Luckily, three days later I have not felt any of the symptoms and neither have the people I went with.”

Facilities staff has doubled their efforts to clean restrooms, dining halls, administrative offices, residence halls, and athletic facilities. BC Dining Services has also stopped offering self-service stations, like the salad and fruit bars in dining halls, to prevent the spread of Norovirus. Instead, salad and fruit have been boxed into individual containers, and baked goods individually wrapped.


“Dining services has a stringent protocol in practice every day to ensure that our meals are prepared and served safely,” Director of BC Dining Services Elizabeth Emery said in an email. “160 members of our dining services staff are Serve Safe certified and the state requirements only mandate one certified employee per location.”

Emery also stated in an email that Dining Services staff are asked to stay home if they are not feeling well, and must provide a doctor’s note before returning to work to further prevent the spread of the virus.

Study days are still currently scheduled for Thursday and Friday, and the finals schedule will remain the same. Students who are experiencing symptoms of the Norovirus, however, should speak with their professors directly to make accommodations for their illness.

The Office of Student Affairs has also cancelled the planned Study Day event on Thursday due to the outbreak of the virus.

“The health department in Boston confirmed that norovirus was the cause of this incident, which was the speculation very early on, and that cases tied to us all occurred at a single location in Boston.”

-Chris Arnold, Communications Director at Chipotle

The first of three emails from Nary was sent out on Monday, advising students not to eat at the Chipotle in Cleveland Circle after several students had complained of gastrointestinal symptoms. Maria Knoerr, the Athletic Administration Staff Assistant, sent out an original email to BC coaches at 9:28 a.m. on Monday morning warning them that members of the basketball team had fallen ill. The email sent out to the rest of BC students and staff was sent at 3:28 p.m. that same afternoon. 10 of the members of the men’s basketball team have the norovirus.

On Tuesday, another email was sent out to students stating that more than 80 students had come into Health Services. By Wednesday’s notice, over 120 students had been infected.

Initially, it was suspected that the outbreak was E. coli, similar to the illnesses that had been linked to 52 other Chipotle establishments in New York, Maryland, and California, among others. After testing, however, Boston Public Health authorities confirmed on Tuesday that the students’ symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea were caused by the Norovirus.

“The health department in Boston confirmed that norovirus was the cause of this incident, which was the speculation very early on, and that cases tied to us all occurred at a single location in Boston,” Chris Arnold, Communications Director at Chipotle said in an email to The Heights. “We offer our sincerest apologies to people who were impacted by this incident.”

The restaurant, which closed Monday for inspection, is still closed now.

“I’d also note that CDC reports that there are approximately 20 million cases of norovirus annually, making it the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the country,” Arnold said in the email. “The large number of cases of this illness is due partly because it can spread very easily through person to person contact, surfaces, or through food or drink.”

Norovirus is characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, but it is rarely serious, and usually the symptoms disappear after a couple of days.

“My illness started with diarrhea then vomiting, and it has lasted all last night and through today,” Alex Dupee, CSOM ’18, said. “I have no idea how I got it either, as I didn’t even go to Chipotle in Cleveland Circle.”

Correction: the article originally noted that all student-athletes received information about the norovirus first. The article has been corrected to reflect the fact that coaches were notified, not all student-athletes.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor