An outbreak of an illness suspected to be norovirus has closed down the YMCA’s popular Camp Seymour on the Key Peninsula for the rest of the week.
The camp was occupied by 67 day campers, 157 overnight campers and 75 staff members at the time it was closed Thursday. As of Thursday morning, 70 children and 24 staff had reported suffering symptoms.
The first camper started feeling nauseated and vomiting Wednesday afternoon, according to YMCA officials. They maintained contact with an outside physician for guidance on how to proceed.
By 11 p.m. that night, 45 campers had shown symptoms, officials said. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department was notified Thursday morning, and it informed YMCA officials they would need to close and completely sanitize the 106-acre camp.
Family members were notified Thursday morning that Camp Seymour was closed, and were asked to pick up campers.
The YMCA told families they could schedule their children for later camp sessions or alternative Y programs, or else get refunds.
Phaedra Miller said her 12-year-old son Carson was enjoying his sixth year at the overnight camp when he was picked up Thursday. He did not get sick there.
“We’ve been going for years, and we’ve never had any problems,” Miller said.
The Fircrest mother also said the incident hasn’t affected her son’s plans to attend camp.
“He’s definitely looking forward to going back next year.”
Meanwhile, her 15-year-old daughter was not sent home because she’s part of a group of 10 older students and two staff who are camping in the Olympic Mountains. They return Friday.
The highly contagious norovirus is most often seen in group settings, such as on cruise ships and in schools. It can be spread by contact with an infected person, food or surfaces.
Geoff Ball, senior executive director for Camp Seymour, said it’s believed a student came to camp already infected at the beginning of the week and started showing symptoms after an incubation period.
Health Department spokeswoman Edie Jeffers confirmed that timeline is consistent with what health officials know about the illness and the way it spreads.
The presence of norovirus cannot be confirmed until samples from infected individuals are taken, which health department officials expect will happen soon. Results should come back from a state lab next week, Jeffers said.
The last outbreak of this kind took place at Camp Arnold in Eatonville five years ago, Jeffers said.
Ball expects to reopen the camp Sunday for the intake of next week’s campers. Jeffers confirmed the sanitation procedure would be complete by then. The Health Department will inspect the premises again before allowing Camp Seymour to reopen next week.
Ball said everyone at the camp was disappointed that this week’s campers had to leave.
“Our heart goes out to all those families,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main norovirus symptoms of nausea, diarrhea and vomiting start to disappear after one to three days. The CDC website warns it can be easy for young children or older adults to become dehydrated, and it’s recommended that patients drink lots of fluids.
The CDC also warns that infected individuals are contagious up to 3 days after recovery from the disease.
For children who aren’t sick yet, the Health Department reports they are susceptible up to 24 hours after their last exposure. That means campers picked up Thursday should be closely monitored until Saturday, after which they should be in the clear.
Leah Traxel: 253 597-8670