Friday, November 7, 2008

Hope College cancels classes until Tuesday, norovirus is suspected cause of 140 sick students

HOLLAND -- It's being called the "Plague of '08."

Hope College students complaining of nausea and diarrhea started streaming into the college's Health Center on Thursday. By noon Friday, the number of students reporting the same "stomach flu" had snowballed to 140, causing the Ottawa County Health Department and college officials to close the campus and forbid students from "gathering" until 8 a.m. Tuesday.

To keep from spreading the suspected norovirus, students are being asked to stay on campus yet stay away from each other. All classes and school activities are canceled Monday. For the next few days, students can pick up carry-out meals only from the college's two kitchens.

It's the largest closure order due to a contagious infection in the county in at least a decade, health officials said.

At a press conference Friday -- the only sanctioned assembly until the ban is lifted -- county Health Promotions Officer Lisa Stefanovsky said the symptoms are consistent with a highly-contagious norovirus illness, although it may be next week before laboratory tests confirm it.

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