By Andy Veilleux
National student conferences are commonly the scene of puking 20-somethings, but Canadian University Press’ NASH74 saw students puking as a result of a suspected outbreak of Norovirus as opposed to alcohol consumption.
While Saturday night was supposed to bring misbehaviour, drunken fun, and endless memories, the night became memorable for unforeseen reasons.
Twitter was full of reports of projectile vomit, people unable to stand on their own, and even stairwells covering in puke.
It all began with isolated text messages about some people getting sick not too long after the Harbour Towers Hotels and Studies dinner – and they have hosted two meals a day for students through the four-day long conference – and quickly escalated.
The first message to cross across my phone was a story about a student puking on another student in the hotel lobby, while the students attending the gala were waiting for a shuttle bus to take them to the University of Victoria’s Vertigo club, which was hosting the event.
Next, messages from the bus ride to the gala started streaming it about people puking on the bus. At this point, it seemed like a few people started their pre-drinking a couple of hours early.
Twitter began to light up with messages under the #nash74 hashtag, but the event still seemed like isolated cases.
Students on the next wave of the shuttle bus were forced to wait tens of minutes longer than expected for their ride, and when it showed up to the hotel, the pervading smell of vomit met students. Unphased and ready to drink, students boarded the bus and headed out to the event.
As the bus left, students began getting ill in the bus, again. When the bus made its way over to Vertigo, students poured out, in a strange resemblance of the “zombie apocalypse,” as it has been told to me. The club had been shut down due to the outbreak of the illness, and rumours of air ambulances, and of course land ambulances, began to swirl.
The shuttle was unable to hold any additional passengers, and made for the hotel.
With the gala closed, many of the students who were not expelling liquids from either end made their way out around the local Victoria bars.
Some were hit by sickness while about town, but the worst of the spread seems to have happened while in the hotel rooms. An unofficial twitter, text message, and Facebook count was made and the number kept growing.
My first report began around 11:30pm, with tens of students sick. As the night grew, so too did the number of sick, and the number of papers affected. As the night wore on, students tweeted the hashtag, and myself, and a list became available [I will post the list below].
People began to provide regular updates on their twitter accounts, and the whole event of #pukefest at #nash74 became a trendy – although somehow not a trending – topic on twitter.
As night turned to morning, several students continued the Twitter conversation, and CUP released more official figures.
At 4am the official numbers were approximately 60 sick, and 11 hospitalized, as provided to Lambda by Matt Hirji of CUP.
There are several scary bits of information to consider. First, the hotel did not inform guests, who stayed overnight last night and were leaving this morning, about the outbreak.
I spoke to several different guests at the hotel, and witness tens of high-school-aged students – presumably the ones here for a basketball tournament – standing around in the lobby for at least 15 minutes, without any masks on.
Also, several student journalists left the hotel this morning, most symptom-free and some who were ‘feeling better,’ to return to their respective provinces. They will be passing through airports across the country, and returning to their homes nation-wide.
While an out-right quarantine would seem to be an overreaction, it seems sketchy to allow the students to travel nationally less than 24 hours after such a big outbreak. Also, not informing guests may be good for reducing panic, but what about their personal safety?
In closing, the role of the students who took a leadership role, from the CUP staff, to individual students, must be commended. Many students kept the mood light with jokes, such as Justin Mcelroy from the the Ubyssey, who tweeted, “All 25 of our group fully accounted for now at #NASH74. I have a renewed appreciation for parents dealing with teenagers.”
Mike Sholars of the Excalibur tweeted “Hey @norovirusnl wtf did @CUPNash do to you? We were just trying to party and bond over our shared love of grammar and pestering. #Nash74”
Students, such as Divyesh Mistry of Imprint and Glen O’Neill of the Martlet, were instrumental with collecting my data on the number of people showing symptoms. Laura Beeson of The Link reported ”@andyveilleux UPDATE: 2/8 puking from @linknewspaper #Nash74 #barfapelago” in what became the typical method of delivery for updates through Twitter.
Most students got through the conference without getting sick, and that is a blessing considering how much contact with the virus they all had, and considering how many people were sick. The outbreak could have been much worse considering the rooms had four students each and how serious the norovirus is.
The biggest question remaining at this point in the outbreak is how it all began, but it remains a mystery.