Two Santa-themed events that had been scheduled for Saturday, one at the base library and the other at the base bowling lanes, were canceled by base commander Col. Thomas Palenske.
HURLBURT FIELD — An ongoing outbreak of norovirus at the headquarters of the Air Force's 1st Special Operations Wing now numbers more than 100 cases, more than double the number of cases noted late last week in initial reports on the outbreak.
The continuing nature of the outbreak, which has required the disinfection of a number of youth-oriented base facilities — sometimes more than once — prompted the base commander late this week to cancel a number of upcoming Christmas-themed events.
Two Santa-themed events that had been scheduled for Saturday, one at the base library and the other at the base bowling lanes, were canceled by base commander Col. Thomas Palenske on Thursday. Palenske also canceled a movie set for a Dec. 21 showing, along with a series of December bowling events for children on the base.
Palenske canceled the events on the basis of advice from Hurlburt Field's public health personnel "and for your safety," he wrote on his Facebook page, 1st SOW Commander.
According to base officials, norovirus was introduced at Hurlburt Field by some children who contracted it during an overseas vacation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes norovirus as an extremely contagious virus that can be contracted through contact with an infected person, or with contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes stomach or intestinal inflammation and can produce nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms of norovirus can be particularly problematic for young children and older adults, according to the CDC.
None of the norovirus cases at Hurlburt Field have required hospitalization, according to Tech. Sgt. Shawn Nickel, a base spokesman. Nickel said the base is approaching the norovirus outbreak with "an abundance of caution" in an effort to contain its effects.
Also according to Nickel, Palenske has taken steps to ensure that base personnel who have contracted norovirus, or whose children may be suffering with it, can stay at home until their symptoms subside.
The norovirus outbreak has not compromised the base's mission readiness, Nickel said, adding that "the goal is to keep it that way."
Palenske has used his Facebook page as one means of giving guidance on handling the outbreak to the Hurlburt Field community. The commander has stressed the need for people with the virus to stay away from base facilities until they have been symptom-free for 48 hours, but that guidance has not always been followed.
As late as Thursday, Palenske was noting breaches of that guidance on his Facebook page. According to Palenske, on Thursday morning an employee of the base's outdoor recreation facility "presented with Norovirus symptoms ... (and) you guessed it, shutting it down, deep cleaning (to disinfect the facility) and sending the employees home."
The closing of various Hurlburt Field buildings began Dec. 8, after the installation announced the presence of norovirus. At that time, the child development centers and the youth center were scheduled to be closed through Dec. 11 for deep cleaning, and last weekend's programs at the base chapel were canceled.
On Tuesday, however, Palenske announced that the base's three child development centers, or CDCs, would be closed through Monday, along with the base's youth center. That decision came as the result of an infected person showing up at CDC East, and a "vomiting incident" at the youth center.
"The science behind Monday is that Norovirus' maximum incubation period is 2.5 days," Palenske explained on Facebook, "and to ensure the containment of the outbreak we should go through two incubation periods before reopening. Again, I am very sorry for the upheaval but we simply must get our arms around this. Employees will be paid and patrons will be credited."
As norovirus has persisted at Hurlburt Field, personnel have been issued stricter instructions on the outbreak, including a directive that "all personnel (military and civilians) who either have symptoms themselves or have someone in their household exhibiting norovirus symptoms are directed to stay home until 48 hours after all household members have been symptom-free."
Parents and employees who bring children to the child development centers and the youth center on Monday will be required to sign a checklist acknowledging that their child and all members of their family have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.