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Yosemite Has Been Hit With Possible Norovirus—Here’s How to Stay Healthy

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The Ahwahnee Hotel and other Yosemite food service facilities are undergoing an inspection and cleanup following the outbreak of a stomach flu–like illness.

Photo by EarthScape ImageGraphy/Shutterstock

The Ahwahnee Hotel and other Yosemite food service facilities are undergoing an inspection and cleanup following the outbreak of a stomach flu–like illness.

About 170 visitors and employees at Yosemite have contracted gastrointestinal illness since early January. Officials have launched an investigation and cleanup but still haven’t identified the outbreak’s origin.

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If you’re headed to Yosemite National Park, don’t forget to pack hand sanitizer. The park is investigating about 170 reports of gastrointestinal problems from visitors and employees over the past month and has confirmed two cases of norovirus, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Thursday. The National Park Service and U.S. Public Health Service are still investigating the origin of the illness, which causes stomach flu–like symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, and fever. 

Norovirus is extremely contagious and spreads quickly through person-to-person contact or contaminated food or water. According to Yosemite spokesperson Scott Gediman, federal officials launched a massive inspection and cleanup of all food service facilities in the park. Restaurants, snack shops, and hotels—including the famed Ahwahnee Hotel—are all getting a thorough disinfection. However, at this time, nothing has been closed.

Gediman notes that there have been fewer cases in the past few weeks, and the park hopes the worst is behind them. He also points out that not all illnesses have been confirmed as norovirus; some may have been food poisoning or the stomach flu.  

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Unfortunately, this recent incident is more bad press for the guest experience at Yosemite. Aramark, the Philadelphia-based concessioner that oversees many of Yosemite’s amenities, has been repeatedly criticized since taking over the park contract four years ago. Visitors complain about bad food, mismanaged campground reservations, and—worst of all—inadequate shuttle services, which have resulted in long lines and waits. Things got so bad in late 2019, that the park reportedly threatened financial sanctions against Aramark. To top it all off, earlier last week, the Ahwahnee Hotel was downgraded from a four-diamond rating by AAA to three diamonds

How to avoid getting sick

Heading to Yosemite soon? You don’t necessarily need to cancel your trip and miss out on the grandeur of Yosemite Valley. Norovirus may be contagious, but there are a number of things you can do to avoid it.

Wash your hands often

Norovirus is primarily contracted by coming into contact with contaminated food, water, or surfaces or with other people who have contracted the virus. While proper handwashing is always important when you’re playing in the dirt—poor handwashing in the outdoors is a major cause of wilderness-acquired diarrhea, a type of travelers’ diarrhea—it is even more important when there’s a risk of norovirus. Wash your hands thoroughly and vigorously with soap and water, especially before handling food and after using the bathroom. And if you want to be extra safe, finish them off with hand sanitizer; the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using one that’s at least 60 percent alcohol. 

Consider bringing your own food and water

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If you’re wary of using park facilities until Yosemite announces an all-clear, we don’t blame you. Day-trippers might want to stop just outside the park in Groveland for sandwiches at Kevin and Randi’s Old Fashioned Meat Market or supplies from Mar-Val Market. Camping? If you’re new to campfire cooking, consider checking out Patagonia Provisions, a new food brand by outdoor retailer Patagonia that offers organic, delicious, easy-to-make camp food, including snacks, breakfast grains, and soups—you can even get sustainably sourced salmon. And don’t forget to nab some water jugs—or fill up reusable ones—on your way into the park. Or go all out and treat yourself to a Grayl water bottle—the fast, easy water bottle is actually a portable purifier so you could fill it up from even the most questionable water source and sip safely.

Pack and clean your food properly

As Gediman points out, some of these cases of gastrointestinal distress may have been caused by run-of-the-mill food poisoning, so if you’re packing your food in (even if it’s only a sandwich), you’ll want to make sure to store anything perishable properly to keep it from spoiling. You’ll want to keep things at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so large blocks of ice and a quality cooler are a good first step. Keep the foods that you plan on eating first at the top, and consider a separate cooler for drinks—that way, you’ll only have to open the food cooler when necessary and can keep it a more consistent temperature.

Also, to reduce your risk of norovirus transmission, carefully wash any fruits and vegetables you’ll be prepping. 

If you have visited Yosemite in the past month and believe you may have contracted norovirus or are experiencing stomach flu–like symptoms, contact a doctor and consider reading the CDC’s tips on preventing the spread of norovirus.

This article originally appeared online on January 13, 2020; it was updated on January 17, 2020, to include current information.

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