by Jeff Lagerquist
Dozens of student journalists attending the Canadian University Press (CUP) annual NASH conference in Victoria grew feverish and began vomiting Saturday night, but not because of typical student conference drunk shenanigans.
While early accounts on Twitter casually joked about alcohol consumption, the wave of illness is now being blamed on an outbreak of the Norovirus, which causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Sixty of the 360 student delegates, speakers, and staff were voluntarily quarantined at the Harbour Towers Hotel. Eleven were rushed to hospital suffering from severe dehydration and have now been released.
NASH allows student journalists to meet with their peers from across Canada and participate in a number of workshops and seminars hosted by industry professionals. News editor Rebecca Burton attended the five-day conference on behalf of the Eyeopener.
“People were fine one minute, then as the last keynote address started around 9 p.m. four other girls and I started puking in the bathroom,” said Burton.
She recalls one girl being hospitalized yesterday afternoon for an unknown reason.
The virus quickly spread through the conference during dinner. Many began to show symptoms as they boarded busses for a gala dance event at the University of Victoria.
“Our staff were getting reports of people feeling gross and staying behind in their rooms,” said Emma Godmere, national bureau chief for CUP.
“Someone puked on the dance floor, a couple on the bus, and several in the bathrooms,” said Burton.
[Editor’s note: It has been brought to our attention that no vomit was actually spilled on the dance floor. Those who busted-a-puke did so elsewhere.]
The event was shut down and students were returned to the hotel. B.C. Public Health recommended staying inside and avoiding contact with the general public. Those affected by the virus are now showing significant improvement and are currently arranging travel plans.
Many continue to tweet updates from the conference using the hashtag #NASH74.
“Most people are slowly recuperating. The first groups started going home early this morning,” said Godmere.
Norovirus, formally known as the Norwalk Virus, is easily spread in large groups like conferences, hospitals, and cruise ships through person-to-person contact, contaminated surfaces, or contaminated food. Symptoms generally last between 24 and 48 hours. The source of this outbreak is not yet known.
The 74th NASH conference began Wednesday and ended Sunday. The Marlet, a student paper at the University of Victoria, and The Nexus, the student paper from Camosun College hosted the event. CUP’s plenary meeting, which elects the national staff, was cancelled.
The Eyeopener won two John H. McDonald Awards (Johnnies) this year. Mariana Ionova won the labour reporting category for “Workers exploited at Rye hot dog stand,” and Jacky Campbell won the features writing category for “Toddlers and Textbooks.”
The Harbour Towers Hotel is ensuring that student delegates recovering from the virus will have rooms until they are able to travel home. The additional expense will be covered by their newspapers.
“There were some really funny tweets. I guess that’s what happens when you put a bunch of journalists in one room. I think in a while we will be able to really laugh about this,” said Burton.