A recent outbreak of norovirus in Springfield is confirmed to have sickened nearly 100 residents. Arby's on Dirksen Parkway was identified as the source.
The building – 3009 S. Dirksen Pkwy. – closed its doors a second time last week and will remain closed through the end of March, according to an Arby's spokesperson. The Sangamon County Department of Public Health began receiving complaints from people in the third week of February. Residents said they were experiencing flu-like symptoms after eating at the Arby's location.
A health department inspector visited the site the week later, on Feb. 23, after 40 cases of norovirus had been reported. The public health inspection of Arby's reports managers were negligent by not following up with employees who called off sick. The inspection also shows meat, sauces and eggs were stored at unsafe temperatures – and a probe used for checking food was kept in an area "visibly soiled with dust and debris."
On Feb. 24, Arby's voluntarily closed for a deep cleaning after an inspector from the county health department found sauces were not being kept in required temperature settings. Arby's was later cleared to reopen "mid-morning the following day," on Feb. 25, wrote a spokesperson for Sangamon County health department. The location stayed open a little under two weeks. During this time, roughly 50 more norovirus cases were reported. Arby's closed again on March 8 through the end of the month. The decision comes "out of an abundance of caution," according to a public statement made by the franchise.
Health department officials confirmed five additional cases have been identified as of March 15, bringing the county's total to 97. In an email a spokesperson for the franchise confirmed the outbreak and wrote: "The franchisee is fully engaged with the local health department and has conducted a professional deep clean, reinforced food safety training with all employees and will have met all health department guidelines before reopening."
Norovirus is a highly contagious foodborne illness. More than half of food-related illnesses in the U.S. are caused by norovirus. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most norovirus outbreaks occur in food service settings like restaurants. Infected workers are often the source. Many people refer to it as the "24-hour flu." It is usually spread by fecal-oral contact. It can also become aerosolized and spread in confined spaces where people are in close contact. It causes vomiting, stomach pains, low-grade fevers and diarrhea. Most people with norovirus fully recover and symptoms pass after 24 to 48 hours. Age and health can affect the longevity and severity of symptoms, and it is potentially lethal.
Bill Marler is a lawyer based in Seattle who has worked on foodborne illness cases for nearly 20 years, including the infamous Chipotle E. coli outbreak back in 2015. He said getting norovirus is "definitely an issue for someone who is immunocompromised," especially now with the threat of COVID-19. The fact that "some of the first symptoms of COVID-19 look like norovirus," said Marler, complicates tracking the outbreak. And people traveling long distances also have a harder time identifying the source of their illness, said Marler.
The norovirus count in Sangamon County is typically sized, according to Marler. "The problem is that the outbreak is probably three to four times the size because most people do not report symptoms," said Marler.
He said from a legal standpoint, Arby's is at fault. And those who reported food poisoning symptoms as a result of eating food from the location may be entitled to compensation. "It may not be tens of millions of dollars," said Marler, but "legally they have a claim."
Contact Madison Angell at email@example.com.