With one death and seven other confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease possibly from being inside Harvey Convention Center, the popular events facility and city office area was closed for investigation around 3 p.m Wednesday.
At a meeting at 2:30 p.m., city of Tyler officials said they talked to Northeast Texas Public Health District (NET Health) officials and were told “the source of the contamination for the recent Legionnaires' outbreak was still under investigation and that no testing location could be ruled out, including those found within Harvey Hall.”
City officials said they were also told, “contamination of the building’s plumbing from a third-party vendor tying into and utilizing the plumbing system was a possibility that could not be ruled out.”
The city decided at this point to close Harvey Convention Center. The cases are all allegedly from people who attended the East Texas State Fair in September. City officials confirmed to the Tyler Morning Telegraph that no employees or anyone from the public who has used Harvey Convention Center since the East Texas State Fair have reported they were sick or had Legionnaires’ disease symptoms.
An event called the Market this weekend at the hall has been canceled and the employees, between 10 to 15 from the city parks department, have been assigned other areas in the city to work.
“While health officials have not requested a closure, The city believes it is in the best interest of community safety at this time,” said City Manager Ed Broussard. “Because of continued unknowns communicated to us at today’s meeting, we believe it is in the best interest of our residents and staff to take these precautionary steps.”
In a press release late Wednesday, city officials said they will opt to have heavily utilized public facilities use the same remedial process recommended by health officials over the next several months to reduce the likelihood that this could ever occur again. Additionally, the city will be updating its venue policies to prohibit vendors from bringing in misting apparatuses.
“While the city understands the inconvenience that stems from moving events from Harvey Hall, we are committed to putting the health and safety of our residents and staff first,” said Broussard.
The initial tests by NET Health on Oct. 25 revealed appropriate chlorine levels were present in water samples collected in Harvey Convention Center, said Terrence Ates, NET Health public information officer.
City officials said the decision to close Harvey Convention Center is a voluntary and precautionary decision for the public and employees. They said it was not a recommendation from NET Health. However, with the concerns in the public and shows coming up, they are taking the steps to make sure the public will be safe.
Harvey could be back open in December. Next week, a professional cleaning company is coming in to clean the entire interior, decontaminate the plumbing system and check all pipes and vents.
One person died after contracting the disease that has symptoms similar to pneumonia. All who got sick attended the East Texas State Fair in Tyler from Sept. 20 to 29.
A statement last week from NET Health addressed the people who are using Harvey Convention Center since the fair and after the fair. The statement read, (at this point) “NET Health has identified no evidence of any public health risk that would interrupt current or future events from occurring at Harvey Hall and its neighboring properties. Attendance at previous, upcoming or future events at Harvey Hall do not mean that a person has contracted or will contract the Legionella bacteria.”
Since the outbreak was first identified, health officials have been searching for the source of the water with bacteria. Ventilation systems, humidifiers and water from hot tubs are some of the most common sources.
On Monday, other water samples were taken and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to be tested. The health department is continuing to communicate with vendors who were in Harvey Convention Center as well as with attendees who were in close proximity to the eight people diagnosed with the disease.
A man who worked at an information booth in Harvey Convention Center during the fair and later died from health complications, and another who operated a food concession outside the center but came inside each day of the fair, are the two people who so far have come forward as having become infected. The man who operated the concession stand has since recovered.