State Health Department officials allowed a Locust Grove restaurant to stay open temporarily — even after confirming six of eight initial food poisoning victims had eaten its food, internal documents show. That decision may have resulted in additional people getting sick.
Health Department officials admitted last week there is no set threshold in such cases for closing a restaurant suspected of being the source of an outbreak. The August outbreak ultimately proved to be the nation's largest of a rare strain of E. coli. One person died, 72 were hospitalized and 241 others got sick before the outbreak was contained. “Obviously, with an outbreak this large in scope, there will be lessons learned that we can apply to future outbreak investigations,” Health Department spokeswoman Leslea Bennet-Webb said. Health Department officials were dispatched to northeastern Oklahoma the night of Aug. 22 in response to multiple reports of food poisoning. E-mail records show that by the next day, health officials determined that three of four sick people interviewed had eaten at the Country Cottage restaurant. By Aug. 24, it was six out of eight. Still, they held off in notifying the public or ordering the restaurant to close. “We do not have enough info at the current time to implicate this establishment as the likely source,” one health official wrote in an e-mail just after noon Aug. 24. “This may leak out to the media today, though.” One or more of the E. coli victims ate food prepared by the Country Cottage on Aug.
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E. coli outbreak by the numbers Total known cases: 314 In-patient hospitalizations: 72 Patients who required dialysis for renal failure: 17 Deaths: One People interviewed: 1,843 Victims who ate food provided by Country Cottage in Locust Grove: Every known case State and county health workers involved in response and/or inquiry: At least 135