The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Report finds U-Md. followed protocols in mold, adenovirus outbreaks

Olivia Paregol takes a selfie with her parents, Ian and Meg, in September 2018 at the University of Maryland at College Park. Olivia, an 18-year-old freshman, died of adenovirus in November 2018. (Family photo)

Nearly a year after an adenovirus outbreak killed a freshman at the University of Maryland, an outside review found the college followed protocols in how it responded to the crisis but made numerous recommendations for handling campuswide emergencies.

Olivia Paregol, an 18-year-old freshman, died of adenovirus on Nov. 18, 2018, after suffering from health problems during the several months she lived in a mold-infested dorm. A Washington Post report in May revealed that university officials waited 18 days to tell students about the presence of adenovirus that eventually sickened about 45 students.

The 141-page report concluded the university’s response to the adenovirus and mold outbreaks at the College Park campus “should have been viewed and handled as campus-wide emergencies . . . which would have provided earlier opportunities for escalation and more effective emergency management for both incidents.”

In the wake of the outbreaks, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) requested an investigation, and the University System of Maryland Board of Regents picked six individuals with “subject matter expertise” to conduct a review. The panel said it examined thousands of documents and interviewed university employees, contractors that worked for the college and Paregol’s father.

The report concluded that the university “adhered to the requirements of all local, state and federal regulations and statutes governing reporting and communication concerning infectious diseases” and “the response to adenovirus was in accordance with the University’s own internal policies and procedures.”

But the report identified “areas of weakness” and included 14 pages of recommendations.

Those included more frequent monitoring of disease trends on campus, sharing health information with regional providers, designating an individual responsible for crisis communications and conducting air sampling after mold remediation.

“Our campus works tirelessly on behalf of the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and we will carefully consider the report’s recommendations,” university President Wallace D. Loh wrote in a campuswide email Wednesday in response to the report. “The panel unanimously found that university employees prioritized student health and safety above all else. At the same time, our work on campus safety is always ongoing.”

Ian Paregol, Olivia’s father, said he appreciated the panel’s efforts but thought the Oct. 22 interview conducted with him was an “afterthought” because he was the last one scheduled and was asked only three questions.

“We do not want another child and family to suffer through this unimaginable pain, and if pushing for an investigation to evaluate the university’s responses can prevent that from happening and avoids another unnecessary death, then at least we have made some progress in accountability within the UMD system,” Paregol said.

Olivia Paregol visited the university health center with a fever and sore throat on Nov. 2, one day after the university learned of the first adenovirus case. Her condition rapidly deteriorated, and it wasn’t until the teenager was fighting for her life at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Nov. 13 that David McBride, the health center’s director, informed the Paregol family about adenovirus cases on campus.

Adenovirus, which is not governed by mandatory state or federal reporting requirements, can produce symptoms similar to a cold or flu. Certain virulent strains can sicken healthy individuals and be particularly dangerous to individuals like Olivia Paregol, who had a weakened immune system.

Katie Lawson, the university’s chief communications officer, told the panel that she was not aware that public health officials had declared an adenovirus outbreak on Nov. 13. At a meeting on Nov. 15, McBride and other college officials discussed sending out an email to students living in Elkton Hall, the dorm where Paregol lived that had been temporarily evacuated because of mold problems.

The report noted that the group decided to send a message about adenovirus to the entire campus but that “there was some delay” and it wasn’t finalized until the following day, on a Friday. The university planned to email it on Monday. Paregol died on Sunday evening, Nov. 18.

“Throughout the handling of adenovirus notices, Ms. Lawson stated there was tension around wanting to be responsive to the community with more information than usual and guidance from state and county health officials, which was also coming from the CDC,” the report said.

McBride, who left his job at the university several weeks after the start of the fall 2019 semester, did not return messages from The Washington Post seeking comment. During his interview with the panel, McBride discussed his efforts to assist students who had health problems related to the mold. He also said the decision not to take air samples before or after the mold remediation was a “subject of controversy.”

The mold surfaced in Elkton Hall and other dorms as early as July 2018. During the unusually wet season, the university received more than 1,800 service calls related to mold at dorms across campus, the report said.

Andrea Crabb, director of residential facilities, told the panel there were “communication breakdowns” with residential facilities staff during the cleaning and remediation. Crabb said she was advised by the college’s Department of Environmental Safety, Sustainability and Risk that air sample testing should not be conducted.

Mold does not cause adenovirus, but McBride, in emails previously reported by The Post, acknowledged that “mold can cause respiratory irritation that may increase susceptibility of any viral infection.”

The Paregol family filed a notice of claim against the college in May and said they intend to move ahead with a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Ian Paregol said university officials “still did withhold the information which caused my daughter’s death. They knew there was an adenovirus outbreak, and they should have told us and her to get checked when she came to the university health center after the first case of the virus.”

Amy Brittain contributed to this report.