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Gaylord Luxury Hotel Wakes Up To Unexpected Visitors: Mice

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008

First the norovirus. Now mice.

Prince George's County health officials are investigating complaints of field mice at the just-opened Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill. Last week, the health department was called to the lavish resort after dozens of guests complained of feeling nauseated. Some also suffered from vomiting and diarrhea.

Tests determined that the guests and at least two hotel employees were exposed to norovirus, the highly contagious illness that is spread by consuming contaminated food, touching tainted objects or making direct contact with an infected person.

Since it opened April 1, some guests attending conventions at the resort say they have seen rodents in rooms and scurrying about in the hallways of the 2,000-room hotel.

Prince George's Public Health Officer Donald Shell said he heard about the mice Tuesday and, since then, his department has been working with the hotel to make sure that it eradicates the problem.

Sheldon Suga, general manager of Gaylord National, said yesterday that the hotel has hired an "aggressive extermination" company to rid the hotel of mice.

"Our top priority is our guests," Suga said. "We are making sure [the hotel] is a safe place, and we are fully cooperating with the health department."

Suga said a construction company failed to properly seal the building.

Shell said that "with any large facility," especially a new one, there is a possibility of mice taking residence, but he said there were no mice or evidence of mice in the hotel when the health department inspected it before it opened. Shell said the hotel would not have received the necessary permits if mice had been found in its food preparation, food storage and food disposal areas. "It didn't have any infestation," he said.

But Shell said his department does not inspect hotel rooms, which is where guests have spotted rodents. He did not know which county agency, if any, is responsible for the inspection of hotel rooms.

State and county health officials said mice were not likely to be sources of the illness that affected at least 111 people.

"It is highly unlikely that rodents would have any substantial role in the transmission of the virus," said John Krick, director of the Office of Epidemiology and Disease Control for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Shell said he did not know how many guests have complained to his department or the hotel. His investigators have yet to find mice, but they interviewed guests who say they have.

Jeremy Morrissey said he was attending a conference for Saturn dealers last week and was jolted out of bed by the sounds of paper rustling. He said he saw three mice "having at it" on an energy snack bar he had left on the window ledge.

"To wake up to something like that is just unacceptable," said Morrissey, a general manager for a Saturn dealership in California. "I find it appalling that they had people stay there."

Morrissey also said during his stay that someone walked into his room while he was taking a shower. And, he was one of the dozens of people who became ill at the hotel.

On Sunday, Jim McKenna, an editor for Rotor & Wing, an aviation magazine, arrived at Gaylord for a 6,000-attendee conference. After he settled in his room to watch television, he said he "saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was a mouse scurrying along the baseboard."

Hospitality experts said the problems encountered at Gaylord were beyond the missteps hotels normally endure in their first couple of weeks.

"You expect some glitches, but this is highly unusual," said James T. Stamas, dean of the School of Hospitality at Boston University.

Larry Yu, a professor of tourism and hospitality at George Washington University, said that hotels normally have a "soft opening," in which a few guests put the facility to the test. Gaylord opted for a full-scale "hard opening."

Several guests complained about four-hour-long waits to check in on the first days. Other guests fumed over paint crews that worked during the night. Despite the problems, Roland Martin of Orlando said, "I had a great experience overall."

Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

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