After the Storm: Revisiting the Norovirus Outbreak

After the Storm: Revisiting the Norovirus Outbreak

School Infirmary © HAFS Harbinger

Assessing the School’s Response to Unprecedented Infection

Se Eun Kim, ’19

The first week back from summer vacation was extremely hectic, not only because of the natural confusion from restarted classes, but also because of the wave of norovirus enteritis that swept over the campus. The epidemic had HAFS under its grip for three days, but the chaos it brought was no less influential or controversial. Since the beginning of the outbreak, students had been expressing frustration towards the school’s management of the situation. Despite the students’ demand for information, the school did not officially notify the students of the exact status of the situation, such as
the number of students affected, nor did it fully disclose the process it undertook to control the outbreak.

However, with the help of an interview with Vice Principal Jeong and the Gyeonggi Office of Education’s Student Infectious Disease Manual, Harbinger now has the answer as to the exact steps the school took in response to the virus as well as to how accurately the school followed the official Gyeonggi protocol.

First, a brief recap: the outbreak began between late Wednesday, August 23, and early
Thursday, August 24, which, as norovirus lays dormant for about 33 hours, indicates that the students first exposed to the disease on Tuesday. The number of infected students reached its peak on Thursday, and all students were sent home after lunch on Friday. After the weekend, no additional patients were found and the school returned to
normal.

So what did the school do during these three days of HAFSdemic?

Vice Principal Jeong said that the school reported to the Office of Education as soon as the number of affected students “exceeded the normal amount,” although he did not specify the exact date. He said that the school started to take action after the number of patients spiked suddenly on Thursday afternoon. The school sent out an official notice to parents who were unaware of the epidemic, providing the basic information and the school’s stance on the outbreak. The students were educated on the proper ways to avoid coming into contact with the disease, first through their homeroom teachers and later through the GMC nurse. The water fountain and the salad bar were temporarily shut down to suppress further infection. On Friday morning, school officials held an emergency meeting, and a decision was made to send students home. The related authorities arrived and spent the entire morning conducting an epidemiological investigation. The results of the investigation came out Friday night, confirming that the disease was not food poisoning, but norovirus enteritis. The school then sanitized its facilities during the weekend. The sanitizing was conducted by the cleaners who regularly work on campus, and all of the facilities and objects that students could touch were sanitized with chlorine. On Monday, the school observed no additional patients, and deemed the situation finished.

Mr. Song Ki Taek commented that the school strictly adhered to the Gyeonggi Office of
Education protocol throughout norovirus outbreak. He even went as far as to state that the only resolution of the Friday meeting was to “follow the Gyeonggi Office of Education guidelines.” A number of students had questioned the competence of the school’s management of the virus outbreak, and perhaps comparing the school’s actions with
the official Gyeonggi Office of Education manual could provide some insight into answering the question.

The manual divides the necessary procedures into three steps. First, the school must dis-
cover and confirm the disease. When symptoms of disease are found, the school must affirm whether the disease is infectious or not through the diagnosis from hospitals. Mean, the school should educate the students on disease prevention and sanitize the facilities. Second, the school must affirm whether or not the disease is already spreading
throughout the school. The nurse is required to report to the principal and the Office of Education, and the school must notify both the students and their parents. Third, the school must take measures to stop the spread. The school has to report to the authorities, further educate the students, manage the infected, sanitize the facilities, and conduct an
epidemiological investigation.

Comparing this manual to the vice principal’s statement, the school undertook the necessary actions—informing the students and the parents, sanitizing the facilities, investigating, and others—within the short time period of three days. The school’s actions followed the official guidelines, but why were the students still dissatisfied?

For one thing, the school did not officially disclose the full details of the situation to the students. This was only natural, as the school itself did not know the exact identity of the disease nor the cause of the epidemic. This information was later revealed to them on Friday night, after the epidemiological investigation. This delayed comprehension of the situation led to other flaws in the school’s actions. Throughout all three stages of the procedures stated in the manual, the school is required to educate the students on disease prevention. However, because the exact disease was unknown, the school could only give general disease prevention education, and was unable to inform the students of any symptoms or prevention methods unique to norovirus. But most importantly, it hindered the school from meeting one of the crucial requirements of epidemic control: reassuring the students. Throughout the three days of the epidemic, the students were kept in the dark about what exact disease was spreading and the school’s measures to stop the spread. Thus, despite the adequate adherence to the Gyeonggi protocol, the
delayed assessment of the situation and the lack of transparency caused great dissatisfaction among the student body.

The norovirus enteritis brought chaos that increased the students’ suspicion toward the
school. Hopefully, the incident taught the school that the key to earning the students’ trust is the transparent and quick disclosure of information in the face of crisis.

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