School officials in Elgin, Illinois have reported the evacuation of 2,900 students from three schools in the area after high concentrations of Legionella bacteria were found in the cooling towers for the facilities.
“Higher than normal” levels of the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease were found at Larkin High School in Elgin, Eastview Middle School in Bartlett and the administration building of Elgin School District U46, causing the closure of all three buildings. Students were relocated until parents were either able to pick them up or the district was able to bring them home.
“While risk of exposure to the bacteria was low, we decided, in consultation with the Kane County Health Department, to evacuate staff and students to safe locations as a precaution,” the school district said.
While students in classrooms heard a public address announcement asking everyone to leave the building, students who were eating lunch said they did not hear anything official concerning the school’s closure.
“All of a sudden somebody said, ‘Let’s go,'” said sophomore Jonathon Davis of Elgin. “We said, ‘Who’s fighting now?’ We didn’t know what was going on. They said to go out in single file but everybody ran out. In five minutes the school was empty.”
Other students who had been in the lunchroom at Larkin said they thought it was either a fire drill or live-shooter drill. It was not until they went outside that a Facebook announcement from school district CEO Tony Sanders explained the evacuation, writes Dave Gathman for The Chicago Tribune.
Some parents also reported that they had not heard of the evacuation and they were merely showing up at school to drop something off to their child.
Sanders said he made the decision close to 10:30 am on Wednesday after reading the annual report concerning the air quality testing of the school cooling towers, which described “higher than normal” levels of Legionella bacteria.
He added that Educational Services Center staff had been asked to report to either Bartlett High or Elgin High to help students there. Because the central office was closed, key district leaders would be moved to district’s plant operations building where a news conference was held this afternoon.
A decision has not been made yet concerning whether or not the schools will remain closed. In the meantime, all 19 towers are being thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
The state is currently dealing with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, which has already resulted in the deaths of 13 people.