Campus officials discuss norovirus expenses

While students were stuck in bathrooms suffering from vomiting and diarrhea when the norovirus hit UW Oshkosh on Feb. 5, campus officials were taking the advice of outside health experts to stock up on cleaning wipes that cost more than a dollar a piece.

According to Patrick Vander Zanden, the coordinator of initiatives, assessment and special programs at UWO, the University purchased a product called Oxivir to kill the virus. This was the product the entire school used to keep surfaces as clean as they could be, Vander Zanden said.

“We had Oxivir at every desk and every hall bathroom as well, both in wipe form and in spray form,” Vander Zanden said

To get an idea of how much this product cost, a bucket of Oxivir wipes, where the wipes are 6-by-7 inches, is listed as $177.68 on the Walmart website. The bucket includes 160 wipes. A gallon of liquid Oxivir is $66.59 on Walmart’s website.
With the outbreak finally wrapping up, administration at UWO is still in the midst of figuring out how much this product cost the University and how it will be paid for, Dean of Students Art Munin said.

“Some of the details are still being worked out,” Munin said. “In the moment of a crisis, you don’t worry about it. You just do what you have to do because it’s not like there’s an option. We knew this was probably going to cost us thousands of dollars, which is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also not something that you need to worry about in the moment because if we don’t take care of this, then the central function of the University is going to cease.”

Most cleaning supplies people buy at stores kill 99.99 percent of germs, Munin said. Because the norovirus is in the .01 percent of germs that are not killed by brands like Clorox and Lysol, the University had to bring in the Oxivir, director of the Student Health Center Pamela MacWilliams said.

“Norovirus is really hard to kill,” MacWilliams said. “So we had to purchase a specific chemical that would take care of that. So we worked with the state epidemiologist who identified what that product is and then we had to go purchase it and distribute it and then we increased our cleaning to three times per day in all of the halls and specifically in the bathrooms, using the appropriate disinfectant that kills norovirus.”

The University went with this specific cleaning solution because of its effective dwell time, Vander Zanden said.

“Specifically Oxivir has something called a one-minute dwell time, so it’s a very aggressive product, but is still safe when it touches people’s skin,” Vander Zanden said. “Your average cleaner might be a 10-minute dwell time or a fiv eminute dwell time, so we switched to Oxivir so staff had access to that and residents had access to that both in the bathrooms and at the main desk of each building.”

Figuring out what cleaning supplies would fight the norovirus was all part of a plan MacWilliams devised when she first determined the outbreak was occurring.

“We were prepared,” MacWilliams said. “I wrote a pandemic plan. We had a tabletop exercise in November. We were prepared. It was kind of surreal. It’s not really how you plan because I planned for the worst, which would be an influenza pandemic that is super contagious and can be deadly.”

Another part of that plan was bringing in the Winnebago County Health Department and the State Department of Health to help. These health departments came to UWO to meet with administration and gave instructions on how to fight the virus, Munin said.

Other than being so difficult to kill, the norovirus can also live on surfaces for a very long time before entering a human’s body, Munin said. This is one of the biggest reasons why campus was never closed due to the outbreak- because it would not have solved anything, Munin said.

“Usually that decision would be made by the state, so it wouldn’t be a campus decision,” Munin said. “In this specific case, for young, healthy people, it is not fatal. It’s a sickness and it’s awful, but it passes. Given our population, the chances of us closing down because of something like the norovirus is slim. And also, closing down might not of changed anything because if I have norovirus on my desk right now, it can live there for weeks. So even with you all going home and coming back, norovirus is still going to be here. So closing wasn’t necessarily the answer.”