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214 Humble ISD students absent as investigation into illness outbreak continues

District still trying to determine source of outbreak

HUMBLE, Texas – More Humble Independent School District students were absent Friday as authorities continue the investigation into an outbreak of an illness at Woodland Hills Elementary School, officials said.

District officials said 214 students were absent Friday, nine more than were out Thursday. They said five staff members were absent both Thursday and Friday.

This comes after dozens of students displayed the same symptoms of illness Wednesday. 

According to school officials, there was an unusual number of students who either had to leave Woodland Hills Elementary School early Wednesday due to being sick or didn't attend school at all because they were already sick.

"It's certainly unusual to have this number of students call out with an illness all at one time," said Roger Brown, assistant superintendent of support services. "We’ve been very proactive once we learned the situation going on at Woodland Hills.  Our custodial staff and our maintenance staff went into action right away.”

The district said special cleaning crews came in to sterilize every desk and doorknob.  Humble ISD said cleaning crews used equipment to fog the entire school with antibacterial and virucidal mist including the three buses that go to Woodland Hills Elementary School.

"What we can tell you is that our mist that we use, it kills 99.9 percent of bacteria and germs and so that’s what we’re doing to address this issue," said Brown. "Obviously we'll continue to monitor the attendance of student’s health and welfare each and every day.”

The district also sanitized the school kitchen with bleach. The Houston Health Department gave the district the green light to use the kitchen on Thursday, but as a precaution, the school handed out boxed lunches.  On Friday the district plans to use the kitchen though.

It's unclear what the illness is, but it's left many kids with symptoms like vomiting.

Even though hundreds of students didn't show up for class, Humble ISD said it's not necessarily that some of those kids were sick, rather their parents being cautious.

"I know that they're cleaning and going through everything, but again, I'm very over protective and I just want to make sure everything is OK," said Nicole Keenan whose daughter is in the fourth-grade.

Other families followed the same practice and took their kids out of school on Thursday as a precaution.
"She's healthy, my dad just wanted me to come take her out of school," said Dauntre Jackson who pulled out his sister Willow who is in the fifth-grade.

"It really makes me sad because it was like everyone was like sick, and It was probably from the second-graders because some of them don't wash their hands," said Willow.

The district said many of the sick kids are in the lower grade levels, meaning kindergarten, first and second-grade.

In the meantime, teachers have been reminding students to practice good hygiene.

"They told us to wash our hands and I brought GermX of course," said Willow. "She told us to wash our hands and stay at least 5 feet away from someone."

Initially Harris County Health Department was investigating the illness since Monday according to the Houston Health Department (HHD).  HHD received the case on Thursday because Woodland Hills Elementary is in the Houston jurisdiction.

HHD said it had its crews out at the school on Thursday.  They are investigating what caused the students to get sick and will have to wait for test results.

The following statement was sent out to parents after so many students displayed the same symptoms:

"Woodland Hills Elementary had an unusually high absence rate today. Seventy-eight children were absent and more were sent home ill. Vomiting and diarrhea appear to be common symptoms. At this point, the cause of the illness is not known.

"No other campuses have reported unusual numbers of absences.

"As a precaution, Humble ISD custodial services are sanitizing the school and will conduct another thorough cleaning tonight.

"Students are also being encouraged to wash their hands frequently. Washing hands before and after eating and other activities is a highly effective method of preventing the spread of illness.

"The Harris County Health Department has been contacted as a precaution. They have asked to speak to a small selection of parents to aid in their investigation and determine if any additional steps need to be taken for prevention.

"If your child exhibits any symptoms of a stomach ache or diarrhea, please keep your child home and seek advice from your physician."

The district sent a second letter to parents Thursday with an update on what was done to rectify the situation:
"We want to provide you with an update on what is being done regarding precautions that are being taken to prevent illness at our campus.

"On Thursday, April 27, there are 205 students absent at Woodland Hills Elementary. Enrollment is 581 students. There are five staff members absent. Some parents said they are keeping their children home today as a precaution.

"Additional information:

"Humble ISD has measures in place to protect students, staff and visitors. The district enjoys a close working relationship with health officials and continually monitors events including flu season, and viruses. Humble ISD follows Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations regarding communicable disease protocols.

"Procedures being done at Woodland Hills Elementary:

"A special cleaning crew scoured the building on Wednesday, April 26, to sterilize every desk, doorknob, and more.

"Special equipment was used to fog the entire interior of the building with an antibacterial and virucidal mist. This will continue each evening until there are no further symptoms of this illness.

"All buses that transport Woodland Hills Elementary students are being fogged with the antibacterial and virucidal mist.

"In the school kitchen, every surface is being sanitized with a bleach solution.

"The City of Houston Health Department and Epidemiology Department has cleared the school kitchen to serve lunch today. However, in an abundance of caution, box lunches are being prepared off-site for school lunch."

Humble ISD said it is still unclear what might have caused the students' illness.

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