An outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness last week shut down an Arlington hotel and comes on the heels of several other outbreaks in the Washington area.
The Crystal City Hyatt, located on Jefferson Davis Highway near Reagan National Airport, closed on Friday due to the infection of four of its guests with the highly-contagious norovirus, an ailment that causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and in some cases fever.
Arlington County spokesperson Diana Sun said that, while the exact number of infections is not known, public health officials estimate that up to 150 people, including some hotel employees, contracted the illness.
The health department was first notified that an outbreak may have occurred at the hotel when, on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 27, a group of about 50 guests came down with norovirus symptoms. Then, the next day, a separate group of around 30 guests also became ill. After some testing, the health department confirmed the following day that the guests had contracted norovirus.
While norovirus is extremely contagious, Arlington County Public Health Director Reuben Varghese said that it is relatively easy to contain once detected because it is not an airborne disease. Rather, it spreads when someone touches a surface contaminated with the virus and then touches their mouth without proper hand sanitation.
Because of the nature of norovirus, Varghese said that it is virtually impossible to know who introduced it into the Hyatt. "This virus is so prevalent," he said, "It could’ve been anyone."
THE CRYSTAL CITY HYATT relocated many of its guests to other area hotels and stopped receiving reservations on Thursday morning. However, it did not force any guests to leave if they didn’t want to.
"Some guests chose to stay here… but it’s by their choice," said Jean-Marc Dizard, general manager for the hotel. "It’s the Hyatt’s responsibility to help [them]. We’re not going to tell them to go away."
As of Friday night, a few of the guests infected with norovirus were still at the hotel but Dizard said that they were fine by Saturday.
The Hyatt contracted a firm specializing in sanitizing to give their premises a thorough clean up. Dizard expected that the hotel would reopen early this week upon health department approval.
In the meantime, though, the partially corporate-owned hotel has taken a financial hit that Dizard estimates will be upwards of $1 million. "It’s never refreshing to have something like this happen to your hotel," he said. "But right now, the financial loss is secondary."
The outbreak of norovirus in Arlington is the third in the Washington area in only a matter of weeks.
A Hilton hotel near Washington Dulles Airport was closed in January due to a spate of norovirus that infected more than 100 people. In December, numerous Catholic University students were infected with the virus.
The virus also spread through the Richmond City Jail last week, infecting up to 50 inmates and forcing authorities to put the building on lockdown until at least March 7.
While norovirus is extremely infectious, Varghese said symptoms usually only last for 24 to 48 hours. "Washing your hands is a very effective tool for preventing the disease," he said.
Norovirus is most common around this time of year. Varghese recommended that everyone wash their hands frequently with warm water and soap, especially when leaving a bathroom, to avoid the spread of the virus.