What to do if a Norovirus Outbreak Strikes Your Event

One of the big meeting stories coming out of San Francisco this week is the lawsuit filed by people who attended an NAACP California-Hawaii conference two years ago at Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City. Many conference-goers were sickened by a norovirus outbreak, reportedly from ingesting tainted salmon.

The lawsuit not only seeks damages for people who became violently ill, but also brings to  light that the hotel was not prepared for such a meeting catastrophe. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the former mayor of Oakland went into a coma for two days, 40 others were rushed to the emergency room and a total of 127 people were ill.

This begs the questions: Do you have a strategy if norovirus breaks out at your event? Is this issue on your checklist to discuss during a site visit or subsequent email conversations?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is caused by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated. It’s also spread by touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them, and then putting your fingers in your mouth. Especially dangerous for events is that you can get sick by having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus. Symptoms include stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Here are 10 things meeting planners can do to be proactive to hopefully prevent, but also, respond should a norovirus outbreak strike your event.

1. Do your research. Before committing to a hosting your event at a certain hotel or venue, ask if they have had issues with norovirus in the past. The hotel where the NAACP held its event had experienced a norovirus outbreak at least twice before.

2. Make sure hand-washing stations or hand-wipes are prominent. You can’t assume everyone’s hands are clean, which makes your event vulnerable when it comes time to passing small plates during the opening reception, for example.

3. Disinfect food-serving stations and other places attendees are touching. Norovirus can survive for several hours on contaminated handrails, door knobs and toilet surfaces.

4. Create a safety team for all events. Topics to prepare for should include fires, earthquakes, inebriated attendees and norovirus. Make sure everyone on your team has rubber gloves.

5. Add the local hospital, and police and fire departments to your phone list. Make sure you know where the nearest hospital is located and even the second-closest hospital just in case of a major norovirus outbreak.

6. Designate an area for those sickened to be moved to, sort of triage. The worst thing that could happen is for those sickened to spread norovirus to others.

7. If norovirus strikes at your event, provide those sickened with fluids to help them avoid dehydration caused by vomiting and dehydration.

8. If an attendee or supplier says they are suffering from stomach cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, encourage them to stay away from your event. You’ll be protecting everybody else.

9. Consider avoiding serving fresh fruits and vegetables, and raw shellfish. Food that has been cooked is less likely to cause norovirus.

10. Have a plan! Don’t assume your event is safe. It only takes one infected person to spread norovirus throughout your event.

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