The Tacoma/Pierce County Department of Health updated the El Toro Norovirus outbreak this afternoon.

As of today, the Health Department has a total of 542 cases—520 from the Tacoma location and 22 suspect cases from the University Place location. We have a lab confirmation of norovirus from the Tacoma location.

According to the departments, outbreaks can last a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. This a large number of cases for us, but we know cases of norovirus typically go unreported. And likely, the high number reflects secondary cases—people who became ill from eating at the restaurant, then went home and infected family members. It’s highly contagious. People will get norovirus an average of five times in their lives and not necessarily realize what it is—and they will probably not report it to the health department.

Norovirus outbreaks typically have greater numbers of cases than other types of outbreaks because of the low number of virus particles needed to cause infection and the rapid person-to-person transmission. This outbreak had much higher numbers than usual because:

  • The exposure period lasted eight days before we received notification people were sick.
  • We shared more about this outbreak than others in the past. Media coverage and our own public outreach through our blog and social media expanded awareness of the outbreak and how to report foodborne illness. More people became aware their symptoms might be norovirus, and they contacted us. 

In the case of the El Toro Restaurants, both received 65 critical points—not a passing score—during their last routine inspections, but they passed their follow up inspections. (See the two-year inspection history for the Tacoma El Toro and University Place El Toro.)

We rely on people who have become sick to report their illness to us. For an outbreak at a food establishment, we look for two or more reports:

  • From different households.
  • With meals at the same food establishment during the same time period.
  • Common incubation times and symptoms.

We match these criteria to what we know about different foodborne pathogens. In this case, they matched norovirus and the restaurants were the only thing all the sick people had in common. Then we investigate if any employees were sick, what tasks they performed, and what foods the sick people ate.

On Jan. 1, the state’s new Paid Sick Leave Law took effect. The law requires employers provide their employees with paid time off to take care of their health. Learn more about paid sick leave on the Labor and Industries website.

Because norovirus and the flu are in circulation, we want everyone to take preventative steps to stay healthy and keep those around you from getting sick. Wash your hands often, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you’re sick. Learn more about norovirusthe flu, and handwashing.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Norovirus outbreaks. The Norovirus lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Norovirus and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients.  Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation.  Our Norovirus lawyers have litigated Norovirus cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a number of food products and restaurants.

If you or a family member became ill with Norovirus after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Norovirus attorneys for a free case evaluation.