Carol Hill, FEI Operations Specialist, Crisis Management

Many of us used the recent holiday season to relax and spend time with family and friends. However, we also likely felt a great deal of stress.

According to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, holiday stress statistics show that up to 69 percent of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,” 69 percent are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,” and 51 percent are stressed out about the “pressure to give or get gifts.”

Many people will in turn go on a vacation, which may explain why the peak tourism season is January to March. Your itinerary is set: You’ve booked a massage, are ready to relax by the pool and go snorkeling.

But a bout of norovirus can completely put a damper on those plans.

The Centers for Disease Control states that about one in every five cases of acute gastroenteritis (diarrhea and vomiting) is the result of norovirus. Norovirus can be easily spread from one infected person to another by direct contact and is most commonly seen in health care settings, food service and on
cruise ships.

Just a few days ago, another cruise ship returned early to port after over 450 individuals fell ill to gastroenteritis believed to be from norovirus. Despite being quarantined to their rooms once identified, four individuals were likely the source of the outbreak—a testament to the virus’s potency.

Norovirus can be prevented. If norovirus strikes, there are key responses to keep in mind not only for the public but for the organization experiencing the outbreak. I have broken these down to better understand the actions and procedures involved once there has been an outbreak of the virus.

Public Response

Personal hygiene is crucial to preventing the spread of norovirus. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after using the restroom. Avoid touching high-traffic items like handrails, elevator buttons and doorknobs where applicable. Carry hand sanitizer and use frequently.

Remain isolated and away from others until the outbreak is clear, avoid shared food options such as a buffet and request disposable utensils.

Organizational Response

Report to the local health department to begin an investigation and receive recommendations. Enforce hand hygiene and use personal protective equipment for all food handling. Make sufficient amounts of hand sanitizer available in all public areas and stop all buffet and banquet services.

Deep clean all areas including:

  • Public areas with high traffic.
  • Food and beverage-related areas.
  • Again, high touch points including handrails, elevator buttons and doorknobs.

Inform staff of symptoms and to report to human resources if affected, monitoring all individuals and providing medical assistance as needed.

If you have personally been affected, stay hydrated and drink water, rest and avoid public areas until symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

Although norovirus is not completely preventable, proper hand hygiene and using safe food handling procedures will ensure vacationers can enjoy a restful and restorative experience.

We are here to help. If a crisis occurs, including a health outbreak, FEI is your expert for providing the tools necessary to address the full spectrum of crisis management.