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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Babson College fights off the norovirus

Babson College reopened its doors Wednesday following an outbreak of the norovirus that infected over 100 people and forced the school to shut down for two days.

There were 111 confirmed cases of the virus at the height of the outbreak last Saturday, resulting in two hospitalizations, according to Babson's Web site. The spread of the virus led the college to cancel all classes, athletics and extracurricular activities scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

The norovirus produces a range of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. It is characterized as much by its extreme contagiousness as by the severity of the symptoms it produces.

While generally not life-threatening, except in the cases of the elderly and very young children, the norovirus produces very unpleasant effects for an average of 12 to 48 hours.

At Tufts, Health Service Director Margaret Higham on Monday issued a school-wide e-mail warning about the potential dangers of an outbreak on the Medford campus similar to the one that occurred at Babson. The message provided students with preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting the norovirus or any disease, including the flu.

Tufts experienced its own outbreak of norovirus last year that was "pretty bad" but not on the scale of Babson's this year, Higham told the Daily. "We have had outbreaks [of diseases], but they've never gotten to the point where we've thought we had to close the university."

The shutdown of Babson gave it a chance to "go through an intensive cleaning regimen," Dennis Hanno, the dean of the undergraduate school at Babson, told the Daily. Norovirus spreads quickly through contact with other people or with shared surfaces, like doorknobs, light switches, sinks and countertops.

During the campus closure, workers sanitized all public areas and dormitories, and cleaning products were distributed to students for use in their own rooms. While the dining halls were closed, food was served for students to take out, which was intended to prevent people from gathering together.

Hanno emphasized the voluntary nature of the close, contrasting it with that of Hope College, in Holland, Mich., in 2008. In that case, the county health department ordered the college to shut down for five days following a norovirus outbreak.

"We didn't want this thing running through the whole community and making everyone sick for an extended period," he said.

The shutdown and subsequent containment efforts had a dramatic and immediate effect on the spread of the virus, Hanno added.

"Almost immediately, we saw a sharp decline," he said. "While there are still a few cases, it's slowed to a trickle."

Babson senior Katie Finigan was able to avoid the effects of the virus. She praised the administration for its work in handling the crisis, noting in particular the effective response from custodians and public safety officials.

"Facilities and Public Safety did a good job," Finigan said. "Facilities would come in and sanitize everything on a daily basis, and Public Safety was always around to answer questions" just in case students needed to leave their residence halls, she added.

Some Babson students -- including both of Finigan's roommates -- chose to leave campus altogether in order to avoid the virus.

"I'm confident we've done everything we can do," Hanno said. "It's a positive mood on campus, because I think everyone saw how we could come together and fight this thing."

Basic steps can go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of disease outbreaks on campus. "We talk to students every year about hand-washing, using hand sanitizer and good bathroom etiquette," Higham said.

According to Higham, "the most simple, basic hygiene measures are what most help to keep people healthy."

She added that there is no way to anticipate when a disease outbreak might occur.

"Every year we have outbreaks; it's not just because we live on a college campus, it's just the way disease works," Higham said. "I don't think those things can be predicted."