While the spread of norovirus on campus appears to be slowing, the D.C. Department of Health has yet to determine the cause of the outbreak, and it will likely be days before campus operations return to normal, university officials report.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, 212 students have sought medical attention for the highly contagious virus, while many more were most likely also afflicted but chose not to visit the hospital or Student Health Center, said Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs.

However, the spread of norovirus has considerably slowed, with only seven new cases reported yesterday, Olson said.

Georgetown has been focused on collaborating with the health department over the past week in attempting to find the source of the outbreak.

“The Department of Health has not reached any conclusions about whether the dining hall or any food has been the cause,” Assistant Vice President for Student Health James Welsh said. “We assisted the Department of Health in distributing surveys to ill students and a sampling of healthy students.”

While health department director Pierre Vigilance said in a press conference Thursday that testing on food and other samples would be completed yesterday, the university has not received any reports or updates from the department.

The outbreak began Tuesday night when 25 students arrived at the Georgetown University Hospital suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms. In the days that followed, the number of ill students climbed rapidly, forcing the university to close O’Donovan Hall as a precautionary measure and enlist the services of the health department. By Thursday morning, tests confirmed that norovirus, a highly contagious virus, was behind the illnesses affecting Georgetown students.

Since the dining hall reopened on Thursday evening after sanitation was completed, Grab `n’ Go has not been available; the lower level, stir fry station and pasta station have been closed; late night has been eliminated; some food items are individually wrapped; and Leo’s staff now serves all food directly to students. Olson said that the changes at O’Donovan Hall are not permanent but added that he is not sure when the dining hall will return to normal.

“Assuming we continue to see the progress we’re seeing, Late Night will reopen on Wednesday,” he said. “We are not certain [when Leo’s will be back to normal], but we certainly hope [it will be] soon.”

Olson said that students will not be compensated for the reduced dining options while the dining hall was closed (three meals a day were offered at the Leavey Center’s Center Grill, but late night was not offered) and will most likely not have the option to cancel their meal plans.

“That’s not something we’ve discussed, but it’s unlikely,” he said.

The university also does not have plans to compensate students for medical or other incurred expenses, a move that has angered some students.

“I don’t plan to pay for my medical bills,” said Lowell Karr (MSB ’11), who contracted norovirus and received emergency room treatment. “I will fight the university tooth and nail. I don’t think it’s right for me to pay for the medical bills from the . norovirus.”

“We are really focusing our efforts on trying to return to normal operations at this point,” Olson said. “The university has an emergency response plan, and we have followed it. . Many of us have been working day and night and over the weekend to monitor this situation.”

Welsh said that although it took over 24 hours to determine that students were suffering from a contagious virus rather than food poisoning, the university’s response would not have changed if the norovirus had been discovered earlier.

Georgetown is also not the only university plagued by the highly contagious virus this week. As of early this morning, approximately 200 students at the University of Southern California had also contracted the virus over the past four days. While USC and Georgetown do use the same food provider, ARAMARK, Georgetown officials do not believe there is any link between the two outbreaks.*

“We know there are some commonalities, but at this point, we believe it is coincidental,” Olson said.

“I think what this points out is the norovirus outbreaks are not rare – it is probably the most common cause of gastroenteritis,” Welsh said.

The university initiated a number of measures on Thursday to keep students and parents informed as well as to help curb the spread of the virus.

Norovirus fact sheets were posted across campus, as well as personal hygiene and hand-washing guides. Bottles of Dial soap and Purell hand sanitizer were distributed to all students in residence halls, and students in on-campus apartments also received Clorox wipes.

In addition, students initially received $6 on their GoCards, designated for laundry, that were set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday night. Yesterday, though, the amount was increased to $7.50 and the deadline for use was extended to Oct. 11 to give students enough funds to complete three full loads of laundry.

The university also implemented a 24-hour call center for students and parents to be kept apprised of ongoing developments in response to the outbreak, and university-wide broadcast e-mails have been sent every weekday since the outbreak began one week ago.

University Provost James O’Donnell announced in a broadcast e-mail Thursday that allowances would be made for students who had been ill, and the academic deans have been advised to coordinate these arrangements on a case-by-case basis.

* Correction: The original article stated that Georgetown and USC share the same Grab ‘n’ Go provider, Organic to Go, according to the USC Web site. Organic to Go officials, however, report that the contract with USC was terminated in August 2008.

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