Last of conference delegates to encounter norovirus leave Victoria
Jan 18 2012
The final two dozen university conference delegates left Victoria on Tuesday after days of battling a painful norovirus outbreak that is believed to have infected about 75 people.
About 370 delegates arrived in the city for a national Canadian University Press conference on Jan. 11.
The journalism convention quickly made national headlines on Sunday morning after the virus rapidly spread throughout the Harbour Towers Hotel and Suites where they all stayed.
Those who were not infected — and some who were — made their way home Sunday, while the rest stayed an extra night or two waiting for their symptoms of vomiting, severe stomach pains and diarrhea to pass.
A shuttle bus took about 13 delegates to the Victoria Airport Tuesday morning with another five or six following them in the afternoon, according to university press staff.
Some students were reporting getting sick during their travels home and some even after they arrived. But with the worst behind them, delegates got back to classes and work.
“If anything, this entire conference, this entire situation, has been a lesson for us in terms of crisis communication,” said Emma Godmere, the CUP national bureau chief, who became a co-ordinator of all communication as information was sent out via Twitter.
She and other CUP staff were praised for their efforts during the outbreak. Staff regularly updated delegates with health information, often going door-to-door to deliver supplies and to check on the ill.
Hotel general manager Ian Jones was glad to put the ordeal behind him, but lauded CUP staff for their role in controlling the situation, which was particularly frightful early on when students were vomiting uncontrollably on buses and in a night club, with no idea what had happened to them.
“They did a great job,” Jones said. “They certainly stepped up and acted beyond their years.”
Airlines WestJet and Air Canada waived cancellation fees for delegates who needed to stay longer because of their illnesses. Costs for additional nights at the hotel were also waived.
CUP members will have to elect their new bureau chief and president electronically because the final day of the conference was a wash in face of the outbreak. They will also decide where to host the next convention.
“We’ll also be writing up a report, after we have a debriefing, about what worked and what didn’t, so future staff, who hopefully never have to deal with this, can learn from the experience as well,” Godmere said during a short layover in Kelowna.