Norovirus outbreak sickens nearly 40 staff and residents of Tacoma senior community

The exterior of Narrows Glen, a senior living community in Tacoma on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017.
The exterior of Narrows Glen, a senior living community in Tacoma on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. phaley@thenewstribune.com

A norovirus outbreak has sickened 28 residents and 11 staff members at a Tacoma senior community.

Staff at Narrows Glen, located at 8201 6th Avenue in Tacoma, reported the outbreak to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on Friday. Symptoms were first noticed on Thursday.

Symptoms of the easily spread disease can include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pains. They can start 12 hours to 48 hours after exposure, the health department said.

The health department was closed Friday and Monday for the Christmas holiday but is now responding to the outbreak, said spokesman Steve Metcalf.

“Narrows Glen is working with the health department and following our protocol about cleaning surfaces and preventing further spread by limiting contact among residents,” Metcalf said.

Most people with norovirus get better within one to three days, the health department said. No specific treatment for the disease exists.

Narrows Glen bills itself as a “resort style setting” on 15 acres. It’s owned by Toledo, Ohio-based Welltower, a senior housing real estate investment company, and managed by Senior Housing Group.

As of Tuesday, 11 residents and nine staff were still ill, said Narrows Glen acting executive director Melody Yost.

“We’re following all the necessary precautions,” Yost said. “We’re doing everything we can to prevent new outbreaks.”

Those include providing free room service to all 200 residents and canceling non-medical related transportation as well as group activities, Yost said.

The facility began a deep cleaning on Friday with anti-viral disinfectants. Staff are wearing surgical masks and gloves, Yost said.

Narrows Glen didn’t wait for health department directives before taking action.

“We tried contacting the state health department but nobody would take our call,” Yost said. They did consult with the state department of social and health services.

Norovirus has been in the news recently. It sickened more than 200 passengers on a Royal Caribbean ship during a Caribbean cruise in mid-December.

It also led to the closing of the entire school system of Eureka, California, last week.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has investigated 18 norovirus outbreaks in 2017 with eight to 100 sick people per incident. That’s up from eight outbreaks in both 2015 and 2016.

“We don’t think this is because there’s more of the virus out there,” Metcalf said. “Norovirus is highly contagious and always circulating. Instead, we think the increase is because of greater awareness about the virus and the misery it causes.”

Half of 2017’s outbreaks were at schools. In 2015 and 2016, only one or two were at schools.

“With more of our community partners, like schools, proactively monitoring for and reporting on outbreaks, we can better help them keep this risk to public health from spreading,” Metcalf said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor