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Pembroke Academy postpones play after students suddenly fall sick; 5 were hospitalized and have been released

Pembroke Academy students are meeting this morning to assess whether enough of the cast can perform their annual production tonight, after more than half fell ill Wednesday night and last night’s show was canceled.

Several of the lead actors in the show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, began feeling ill just an hour after eating dinner, brought to the rehearsal that night from the Concord Olive Garden by parents, said Pembroke Players President Ginger Gates.

“We were all excited, like, ‘Yeah, yum,’ and everyone ate it all. There weren’t any leftovers,” said Gates, a senior at Pembroke Academy, who did not get sick.

“When we were done with the first act, four people had gone to throw up,” she said.

Five students went to Concord Hospital, but most had already been released by lunchtime yesterday, said Gates and Headmaster Mike Reardon. Hospital officials said yesterday afternoon they were not aware of the students being admitted.

Canceling last night’s performance was “a no-brainer: The kids are sick and they’re weak,” Reardon said.

Though he said he’d meet with the club this morning, he added, “If I’m a betting guy, I’m saying this isn’t happening this weekend. We’ll see what it looks like, and we’ll reschedule it if we can. The kids have worked so hard, but it isn’t looking good.”

Reardon yesterday morning called state health officials, who will be talking with students to try to determine the cause of their illnesses.

Though Gates said at least one student was told by the hospital she had food poisoning, state Director of Public Health Jose Montero said it’s possible the students went through a late-season outbreak of norovirus instead.

Norovirus, which usually causes 24 to 72 hours of intense vomiting and diarrhea, can be transmitted if someone who has the virus does not properly wash their hands after being sick or using the bathroom.

The virus is most common from November to March, but since April 1, Montero has seen at least six outbreaks of norovirus in Hillsborough and Merrimack counties, he said.

“The easiest thing, the first thing people do is to blame a particular food, but the reality is we don’t know if there are more kids who are sick who are not in the drama club, or if the kids who are sick ate something else that somebody else brought,” he said. “If somebody else was sick, a family member who touched the food they brought – we don’t know yet. We are just starting.”

Montero’s department will not inspect the Concord Olive Garden unless asked by the city, because Concord has its own health officer who inspects and licenses restaurants. He was not available yesterday.

The restaurant plans to reach out to Concord’s health department today, and has already filed a claim with their insurance company, said Mike Bernstein, director of media relations for Darden, the corporate owner of The Olive Garden.

“The health and safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority. We take this situation extremely seriously and (have) launched an investigation to determine what happened. We believe this was an isolated incident, since we have had no other complaints from any other guests,” he said in a statement.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments1

Thanks for your excellent and accurate article. The students were as devastated as one can imagine. Two performances are rescheduled for May 2 and 3, Thursday and Friday, with an eye on Tuesday, the 30th of April as well. If you need an evening of laughter after to set things right, consider joining us in the Pembroke Academy Auditorium. Curtain is at 7 PM. Pete Mehegan, director.

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