UM Business School Building Disinfected

Precautions taken after more than 20 cases of illness
Elevator buttons in the new UM Ross School of Business building are among the spots where the norovirus could have been transmitted.

Elevator buttons in the new UM Ross School of Business building were among the areas treated during the disinfection protocol.

Overnight from Monday to Tuesday at the new UM Ross School of Business building, plant and custodial staff, along with employees of Aramark, which provides food services in the building, implemented a disinfection protocol for norovirus.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, there were no cases of norovirus yet confirmed among the 20-30 people who had become ill over the past week since the newly constructed building first opened on Jan. 5.  Further, according the Jennifer Nord, of UM Occupational Safety and Environmental Health (OSEH), the last date of onset for a new case of illness was on Jan. 10. People who have become sick have been requested to provide stool samples for analysis by the Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing. As yet no samples have been provided for testing.

Nord and David Peters of OSEH, in a conference call (arranged by Pamela Koczman, manager in occupational safety and community health at UM), confirmed that the decision to act aggressively by starting the cleaning protocol last night was made based on: (i) the symptoms shown in cases reported, (ii) the quick spread, and (iii) the commonness of norovirus as the cause of such cases.

The norovirus is a term given to a group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis. Symptoms often include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramping, and sometimes include low-grade fever, chills, headache and muscle aches.

Graham Mercer, the business school’s assistant dean, sent an email to the entire school on Monday evening, alerting faculty, staff and students to the situation. He wrote: “After consultation with OSEH we are taking the conservative approach of treating this as a Norovirus outbreak … It’s impossible to determine where this external virus originated but aggressive action is being undertaken to eradicate it.”

A Michigan Department of Community Health publication provides instructions for cleaning an area believed to be infected with the norovirus. It recommends using mixtures of diluted chlorine bleach to disinfect doorknobs, faucets, sinks, toilets, phones, counters, chairs, tables, hand rails, elevator buttons, light switches and keyboards, among other high-touch items.

Chuck Amyx, who is director of operations for the business school campus, confirmed in a conversation on site at the new building this morning that the focus had been on treating surfaces with a high likelihood of being touched. Particular attention was paid to areas in the center of the building, like the Siegel Cafe and the fitness center, where people tend to cluster, increasing the risk of viral transmission via surfaces. However, Amyx said that UM custodial staff had also treated the areas outside of these nexus points, including surfaces like door handles, elevator buttons, drinking fountain activation buttons, counters – all surfaces The Chronicle touched.

The six-story, $145 million building was completed late last year and includes 270,000 square feet of offices, classrooms, an auditorium, gallery space, a “winter garden,” fitness center and cafe. (You can see a view of the building’s exterior from a live webcam here.)

The university has had other outbreaks of the virus, which often strikes in communal settings like schools, day care centers and nursing homes. In 2004, dozens of students living in campus dormitories became ill with the virus, according to an Ann Arbor News report. Nord and Peters said that the current situation at the business school is smaller and more contained than the 2004 situation.