As Mistletoe and Magic is set to open this weekend, Tyler Mayor Martin Heines stressed that Harvey Convention Center is safe for use. He even drank the water.

Heines made himself available for a brief press conference on Tuesday morning after the city received results on Monday that a plumbing remediation had found no live Legionella bacteria in the water. The results also confirmed that bacteria present had been killed.

The strain of Legionella previously found at Harvey was not the same strain that those sickened during the outbreak tested for. NET Health said there are more than 50 strains of the Legionella bacteria.

Heines said that while the city was not asked to do the remediation, it did so out of an abundance of caution, and is taking long-term steps to ensure the public feels comfortable using the facility. All hot water systems in the building have been turned off indefinitely, the city is flushing the plumbing system again ahead of this weekend’s event, and the use of any aerosolizing devices, such as hot tubs and decorative fountains, has been banned from the convention center.

“Harvey Hall has been aggressively cleaned. We have gone way above (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and NET Health expectations. Harvey Hall is very safe,” Heines said. “The strain that was found has been aggressively cleaned and is gone, but it also was different than what sickened people.”

According to the CDC, Legionella is a common bacteria occurring naturally in freshwater and man-made environments.

People can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they either breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water containing the Legionella bacteria into the lungs.

Heines also stressed that the facility does not use the type of air conditioning system with cooling towers that can incubate the Legionella bacteria. NET Health previously said the ventilation system at Harvey did not pose a risk.

“We were under the impression from NET Health and the CDC that led to the logical conclusion that it was a vendor at the ETSF,” Heines said. “And that ended up being true, because the strain that was found in this building was not the one that made people sick.”

He said that while the CDC and NET Health believe the hot tub displays were the most likely source, there is no way to go back and test those hot tubs. Due to the outbreak in Tyler and a much larger one at a fair in North Carolina in September, the CDC recently issued new guidelines on the use of indoor hot tub displays.

A second round of water samples is expected back next week after the cultures undergo a waiting period.

“The good news in (showing) it was a vendor is that there was no Legionnaires’ before, no Legionnaires’ after, the strain was different as reported by the CDC and now we’ve aggressively cleaned this building to where there’s no issue,” he said.

The Junior League of Tyler, which hosts Mistletoe and Magic, thanked the city for going above and beyond to assure their vendors and attendees the center was safe for use.

Mistletoe and Magic Chairwoman Nicole Robbins said that while some out-of-town vendors have canceled, there will still be more than 100 on hand this weekend, and the event saw its strongest ticket sales in four years.

“We’re very confident that this event will go on without a hitch for our vendors and that our fundraising dollars will be (unaffected),” Robbins said. “We’re completely full, which is amazing, even with the hiccups along the way. We had an extensive waiting list, so we were able to fill. They start moving in today and we’re ready to rock and roll.”

Organizers said the event typically brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars that will be sent back out into the community with Junior League volunteers.

Junior League President Michelle Boykin said she was proud to call Tyler home and hopes that everyone will come out to the event and experience a little Christmas magic.

“We want to provide that community environment and the Christmas cheer. When you walk in, it’s joyful and happy,” she said.

Boykin said she was glad the city took additional precautions to assure attendees the facility was safe.

“We’re so thankful for (Mayor Heines) and the city as a whole for taking an abundance of caution for our event and future events,” Boykin said.

For a full schedule of Mistletoe and Magic events, visit https://www.juniorleagueoftyler.org/mistletoe-magic/

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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