Outbreak sees fewer cases, in more locations

A viral outbreak that began in an on-campus residence hall last Wednesday has spread to off-campus housing, although the University says that the number of reported cases has decreased over time.

In a press conference on Thursday, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry offered more information on the source of the infection and the ways it has spread throughout the USC community. Although exact numbers are not available, LAist reported that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has recorded 103 cases since Oct. 26. Carry said that the number of students coming to the Engemann Student Health Center has decreased each day since the start of the outbreak, but that there could be many students who have not reported symptoms.

“The outbreak started in New North, Marks and Pardee, but what we have seen is the numbers decreasing in those residential halls, and a trickling of incidents happening off campus,” Carry said. “We’re seeing more cases on the Row, and in the apartment complexes nearby. Students are mobile, they’re hanging out with their friends, and now we’re seeing more cases off campus.”

Carry also said that when the Engemann Student Health Center first began receiving a high volume of students with flu-like symptoms last week, USC worked with the health department to determine the cause of the outbreak. As a result, they ruled out the possibility that the disease was a food-borne illness, and dispelled rumors that the infection came from a residential dining hall.

“Our health officials came into EVK the first thing following the outbreak and found that everything in EVK was done in top-notch hygiene — nothing was wrong with the cleaning procedures in the dining hall,” Carry said.

While Carry said that tests are still being conducted to determine the particular strain of the virus, LAist reported that according to the health department, the outbreak is currently being investigated as an incidence of norovirus, a type of gastrointestinal infection commonly known as the “winter vomiting disease.”

Carry also offered options for students coping with the GI virus and discussed steps the University has undertaken to try to curb the outbreak.

“We have installed more hand-sanitizing stations across campus as well as in residence halls,” Carry said. “In our residential halls, we also now have the option for students to have their meals delivered to their rooms if they are not feeling well. If an off-campus student is on a meal plan in a reasonable distance, we’ll also be able to deliver. Our primary tool in dealing with virus outbreaks, however, is communicating with students.”

Carry also said that in affected residence halls, bathrooms are being cleaned every hour and employees are wearing gloves to minimize students’ possible contact with the virus. According to Carry, the main source of the rapid spread of the GI virus is the fact that students are not taking the precautions to keep themselves clean.

“Essentially, it’s passed by students touching each other, sharing items and not washing their hands,” Carry said. “For any of the flu viruses, our best advice is to isolate yourself, wash your hands, don’t share food and let the symptoms reside over 12-48 hours. So we’re asking students, if you’re feeling nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, isolate yourself, because when students stay isolated, they help keep the Trojan Family safe.”

On Wednesday, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Michael Quick sent a memorandum to all USC faculty informing them of an outbreak of gastrointestinal virus on campus. Quick emphasized the importance of helping students make up missed work and providing resources for them to work on while absent.

“I am asking all of you to be aware that students may miss class due to this illness and to advise students in your classes to return to their residence halls if they are sick,” Quick wrote. “The recommendation is that students experiencing symptoms wait a full 24 hours after symptoms subside before returning to class or social activities. Please show consideration to students who have missed classes due to this illness.”