Outbreak shuts down Bellingham restaurant twice

by: Alison Grande Updated:

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BELLINGHAM, Wash. - A suspected norovirus outbreak at the Bellingham Applebee’s is getting worse.  The number of people sickened jumped from 20 on Tuesday to 68 on Thursday.  

Health officials say 17 of the people sickened were employees, the rest were customers who ate at the restaurant. The health department shut down the restaurant on Tuesday. It’s the second time in a week it was ordered closed.

Workers were cleaning carpets at the restaurant Thursday night. The business has been cleaning and sanitizing everything.

When asked, "So this is an outbreak?"  Whatcom Health Department spokesperson Tom Kunesh said, "Yes."

On Friday, several employees at Applebee’s got sick.  The Health Department immediately shut the restaurant down for 48 hours while cleaning crews threw out open food and steamed and bleached surfaces.  The restaurant reopened Sunday.

On Tuesday, two more employees developed symptoms.  The restaurant was closed again.  Surprised customers like Leona Birkstrom were given gift certificates.

"He just said they were closed because of illness and they were closed for public safety," she said.

Health officials say someone who may have already been sick came to Applebee’s and threw up.  Employees cleaned it up and felt sick themselves.  The violent and highly contagious norovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

The Health Department is looking for other sources of the virus in the community.

"We visited at least two additional restaurants in the last week.  There's no further evidence of restaurant-related outbreaks," said Kunesh.  

“We’ve responded as if it’s an emergency. With the restaurant closed it appears exposure, at least in this instance has been interrupted,“ Kunesh said Thursday night.

"It's a little alarming," says Amy Dunaway.  She and her co-workers at a café next door are on alert.

"We're just being super careful and making sure we constantly wash our hands," said Dunaway.

Applebee’s will be closed for another two-day scrub down.  It will reopen if no other illness reports develop.