More than one-third of Woodland Hills Elementary students, 205 out of 581, were absent Thursday, April 27, either due to illness or as a precaution against becoming ill.
Five staff members were also absent. Neither the exact source or the diagnosis of the illness has been determined, but the school is treating it as virus- or bacteria-borne and not food related.
This follows an unusually large amount of students who were either already sick and stayed home, or became sick on Wednesday, leading to the school taking extraordinary measures to sanitize the school. School officials reported that on that day, 78 students were out sick and several more, showing symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, were sent home. The younger grades appeared to be the most affected.
The school sent parents a letter Wednesday, April 26, addressing the situation, and sent a second letter the next day with an update on steps being taken to prevent any further outbreak. It read in part: 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.
Also on Thursday, Humble ISD Associate Superintendent Dr. Roger Brown said, “Custodians and maintenance workers went into immediate action, misting the school and buses with a solution that kills 99.9 percent of all bacteria and viruses within 60 seconds. We will mist again tonight and tomorrow night.”
He explained that the district owns two machines that use a mist of electrified water with minerals that is completely safe for humans but deadly to germs. Other than the school, three buses used to transport Woodland Hills Elementary students were misted. These three buses are used for other routes, so the district continued to monitor those routes although no students outside of Woodland Hills seemed to be affected.
“We feel good about getting it right, but will continue to monitor the health and welfare of our students. It’s unusual, not knowing what it is, but we’re being proactive and tackling it by working with the Houston Health Department,” Brown said.
The letter sent home on Thursday noted that both the Houston health and epidemiology departments had cleared the school kitchen to serve lunch that day, but the school chose to serve box lunches that had been prepared off-site. The cafeteria resumed normal lunch service on Friday.
Principal Debi Beard said in her letter that the school also plans to “continually educate students, staff, and community members about the importance of frequent hand washing; covering a cough or sneeze; not touching one’s eyes, nose, and mouth; staying home when sick, and other measures to prevent the spread of all communicable disease.”
On Friday, the school district reported that 219 students and the same five staff members were absent. A spokesperson said that they could not confirm how many children were actually sick and that the source of the outbreak had still not been confirmed. No other school appeared to be affected.
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