Intestinal virus sickens residents at Oakland County's Fox Run

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Novi — A gastrointestinal virus has one of Oakland County’s toniest retirement communities on a near-lockdown with 129 residents and 33 staff stricken.

Fox Run is known for its fitness center, pool, beauty salon, restaurants, cafeteria, pub and the like, all of which have been closed for weeks as management tries to stifle the spread of the ailment at the community of 1,300 residents.

Symptoms of the illness, according to communiqués to residents from managers, include a possible low-grade fever and “the sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and some stomach cramping.” The first case was reported Nov. 12, according to Fox Run.

The community of Fox Run in Novi.

Effects of the lockdown, according to residents, include boredom, frustration and significantly less pleasant mealtimes. 

There has been one hospitalization, according to the Oakland County Health Division, but 129 residents, 10% of the population, have been stricken, along with 33 of 735 employees.

The virus is spread “from person to person by hand-to-hand contact,” with outbreaks stemming from “water or food contaminated with the virus,” the retirement community told residents.

Bill Gould, 86, was infected at Fox Run but did not fall ill until he and his wife, Barb Fisher, were on a mid-December trip to New York. 

He spent three woeful days in their hotel room, Fisher said, and came back to find that any place where people socialize had been declared off-limits. 

For a time, residents used to being able to order whatever they wanted for lunch or dinner in a restaurant setting found themselves standing in long lines for carryout from the kitchen. Now even that has been eliminated; they make selections from a limited menu and dinner is brought to their rooms.

“Luckily enough, we have a car and we can get out of here,” said Fisher, 85, who’s been at Fox Run for 16 years. 

On an excursion Wednesday, Gould trusted his hair to a barbershop instead of the closed in-house salon. But he and Fisher felt worse for a woman she met in a hallway, practically the only place people are interacting.

“She moved in 10 days ago,” Fisher said. “She would like to eat with somebody.”

Activities scrubbed because of the outbreak have included movies, musical performances and a Friday bus trip to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. 

Fox Run, whose residents have included the late broadcaster Ernie Harwell, is “doing everything right, everything they can,” said Oakland County communications officer Bill Mullan. “They’re using best practices to minimize the spread of the illness.”

“As of today,” said Courtney Benhoff, regional communications manager for Fox Run owner Erickson Living, from her office in Baltimore, Maryland, “there are only three residents who are actively symptomatic.”

Mullan said the virus appeared to have been defeated in mid-January, and the restaurants reopened for two nights. 

“But additional cases were reported late last week,” he said, which was when the limited menu and delivery were instituted. The virus is believed to be contagious for up to 72 hours after onset.

Allan Levy, 86, who moved to Fox Run in late January from Canton Township, said his case was so mild it might not have been related to the outbreak: four hours of discomfort, about 12 days ago.

He said he was asked by some fellow residents to write a testy letter to management on their behalf, outlining their frustration and suggesting that some level of rebate is in order.

“They want an explanation of why it’s taking so long,” said Levy, a retired educator. “They feel locked in here. They feel helpless.”

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn