Outbreak Shutters Hyatt Regency in Crystal City

By Leef Smith and Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 2, 2007

The Hyatt Regency Crystal City was forced to shut its doors to new guests yesterday after two groups of patrons who had already checked out became sickened by what health officials said was the highly contagious norovirus.

Hotel officials were going door-to-door last night to check on the approximately 250 guests currently booked in the 685-room conference center hotel on Jefferson Davis Highway.

Although only four guests were reportedly ill, hotel managers said they were heeding the advice of Arlington County health officials, who recommended that the hotel be shuttered to incoming guests while it undergoes a thorough scrub-down, which began yesterday.

The norovirus, named after Norwalk, Ohio, where elementary school students became ill in 1968, has been blamed for a slew of recent headline-grabbing gastrointestinal outbreaks, some in the Washington area.

In December, the virus hit scores of students at Catholic University. In January, the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport hotel closed temporarily after about 120 employees and guests were sickened. Officials say norovirus is particularly severe this year.

Norovirus is almost always passed through vomit or feces, and it has an incubation period of usually a day or more. Three-quarters of people report vomiting and diarrhea, and one-third have a fever. Symptoms usually last about five days.

Hyatt officials said they heard of a possible outbreak Monday after two large groups -- both of which checked out over the weekend -- called the Arlington Health Department to report gastrointestinal illnesses.

Based on interviews with guests who had checked out Saturday and Sunday, Arlington Public Health Director Reuben Varghese said anecdotal reports suggest as many as 150 guests might have become ill.

At a news conference last night, Varghese said the state health laboratory had confirmed the norovirus, county spokeswoman Diana Sun said.

Hotel officials said that they were working last night to find alternative accommodations for healthy guests who wished to leave and were diverting incoming groups to other hotels in Crystal City and the District.

The company cleaning the hotel said it could probably reopen by noon Tuesday, Sun said.

General manager Jean-Marc Dizard said he had hoped the hotel would be disinfected and operational by Monday, when its next large arrival of guests is expected. In the meantime, he said, the hotel will gladly take the financial hit to protect the safety of its guests.

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