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After norovirus outbreak, Harvard Faculty Club restaurant to remain closed during commencement

Posted by Your Town  May 14, 2010 07:15 PM

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The restaurant at the venerable Harvard Faculty Club, shuttered for weeks because of a norovirus outbreak that sickened more than 300 people, will remain closed through commencement, the height of the university's social calendar.

The outbreak forced the club, a membership organization for current and former faculty, staff and students, to sanitize the entire facility and retrain employees. The club has reopened for private events, but the restaurant will not reopen until early next month.

The club initially closed in late March after an outbreak, and then reopened Easter Weekend. Two days after Easter, the club, located on Quincy Street in Cambridge, closed again because more people reported getting sick.

Friday, the Cambridge Health Department said an investigation found that before the club closed for the first time, 14 employees were working while they were sick and an undetermined number of employees were working less than 72 hours after they had become free of norovirus symptoms.

State law requires that restaurant employees who become sick can not return to work until their symptoms have been gone for 72 hours, said Louise Rice , director of public nursing for Cambridge.

The city’s investigation found that approximately 308 people became sick at the club, and 33 of them were employees—which is about 40 percent of the club’s staff, Rice said.

“Having so many sick employees probably drove the contamination of the space,” she said.

After the club re-opened on Easter, however, Rice said no employees who were working were sick and all had been symptom free for at least 72 hours.

Following the health department's investigation, city officials authorized the club to re-open in late April, but faculty club officials say the club’s restaurant will not re-open until shortly after Harvard’s commencement on May 27 . Event services resumed at the club on May 6 and lodging services will resume this weekend.

"They are doing everything in their power to get this right,” Rice said. “What happened happened, but they’ve been really very open to working with us. They are being really hyper careful.”

The phased re-opening has allowed the club to make operational adjustments, re-train all employees and extensively clean the facility, said Crista Martin , a spokesman for the school’s hospitality and dining services.

“Every contact surface and piece of equipment in the Faculty Club was sanitized, everything from floors and counters to rugs and drapery, as well as the internal mechanisms of equipment such as coffee and ice machines,” Martin said in an email. “All food was discarded and the kitchen was completely restocked. We also took the opportunity to upgrade equipment at the facility.”

Harvard officials directed questions from a reporter about the club employees to the Cambridge Department of Public Health, which conducted the review of the outbreak. Martin also declined to comment on whether any personnel changes were made as a result of the outbreak.

City Inspector Buddy Packer said the club has reorganized as a result of the outbreak, changing the ways employees report illnesses.

Before, employees at the club were required to tell their supervisors. Now all supervisors will also be required to report any illnesses to a single designated person so the club will be aware if multiple employees are getting sick, Packer said.

The norovirus outbreak at the club was the largest Rice said she has seen in five years with the city.

One of those sickened was 80-year-old Robert Cogan, a professor at the New England Conservatory in Boston.

After an ill-fated Easter brunch put him in the hospital for almost a month, he finally returned home last week. The gastrointestinal ailment led to a string of complications that put Cogan in intensive care for four days and extended stays at Massachusetts General Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Cogan said he’s “very disappointed” that before he ate his Easter brunch on April 4 no one at the club informed him that the restaurant had just reopened after a norovirus outbreak.

“If we’d known that, we certainly wouldn’t have gone,” said Cogan, who said he used to frequent the club for brunch.

Martin said the club has reached out to its guests both to encourage them to contact the Department of Public Health if they became ill and to express its concern for those people who were affected by the illness.

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