COLLEGE PARK – With calls to investigate the University of Maryland and its handling of the outbreak of the adenovirus on its College Park campus, Board of Regents Chair Linda Gooden announced the start of a formal investigation by the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, starting on June 11.
In a conference call on May 31, Gooden said she reached out to the family of Olivia Paregol, an 18-year-old from Glenwood, Howard County who died on Nov. 18 after contracting the adenovirus, Gooden said. The Board of Regents is working together with President Wallace Loh to understand what caused the outbreak.
In their June 11 meeting, the board discussed the next steps in investigating the university’s handling of the adenovirus and if the school will face any legal problems related to the situation.
“Our discussion today, in closed session, will start the process of reviewing and discussing the options for working with President Loh and his executive team to see that there is a thorough, independent and transparent investigation of the work he and his team have done,” Gooden said.
The response by Gooden comes as Gov. Larry Hogan and other state politicians demand the Board of Regents to start investigating the university’s handling of the situation, which dates back to before the start of the 2019 fall semester. Students were not allowed to live in several dormitories on campus due to a widespread case of mold. Significant rain and high humidity were the contributing factor, according to a memo by Department of Residential Life on Oct. 11.
However, there was no notice of an outbreak of an illness caused by the mold until Nov. 19, one day after Paregol’s death. In an investigative story completed by the Washington Post revealed that university officials knew of the outbreak but waited 18 days before informing the student body of the virus spreading.
“There should never be a question as to whether the campus community will receive timely and accurate information, especially when it is an urgent matter of public health and safety,” Hogan said in a letter to the Board of Regents. “It should not take the death of a student for the university to alert families about an illness spreading through campus, whether it is the common cold or meningitis like the university saw in 2014.”
Maryland officials responded to the story by stating that they were following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on how to deal with campus outbreaks of the adenovirus. U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen with Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (all D-Md.) came together to write a letter to the CDC to review their guidelines and provide answers to questions submitted by June 14.
“The large social gatherings present at universities may increase the spread of communicable diseases, which necessitates further guidance to healthcare providers in order to best protect immunocompromised individuals on campus,” the letter stated. “We are concerned that the guidelines did not protect Ms. Paregol, and that they leave immunocompromised people like her at risk of serious illness or death.”
According to the CDC, adenoviruses are common viruses that cause a range of illnesses. It can cause cold-like symptoms, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea and pink eye in most cases. If treated timely with common remedies, recovery time can vary.
While students were allowed to come back to live at the dorms, mold continued to persist in certain rooms. Students were shuttled between three hotels to live in during the first couple of months during the semester while custodial staff attempted to clear out the mold. While multiple dorms were affected, Elkton Hall was considered the epicenter of where the biggest problems occurred.
Elkton Hall is where Paregol lived before her death in mid-November. Paregol’s parents sued the university, claiming that they neglected to inform students of the possibility of getting sick by the growing mold problem. According to the lawsuit, Paregol’s immune system was already weakened by medication she took for Crohn’s disease, which made her more vulnerable to illness.
As of June 2019, there have been over 40 confirm cases by university officials of the adenovirus. The university was unavailable to provide a comment.