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State shuts down daycare under investigation for E. coli outbreak

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KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The Knox County Health Department has confirmed "several" cases of E. coli in children. Officials said the outbreak may be linked to raw milk from a Knoxville farm or exposure to animals at a Knoxville daycare.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services ordered the shut down of Kids Place Inc. Millertown Child Care Center on Tuesday night. State officials said the daycare remains closed as it is under investigation by the Knox County Health Department.

According to the health department, more than 10 cases of E. coli 0157 were reported, all among children, as of Thursday. Kids Place said only four cases came out of their daycare and none of the children had to be hospitalized.

"The safety of children at the Kids Place Inc. Millertown Child Care Center is our foremost concern,"
a representative for the Department of Human Services said. As far as what, if any charges would be filed, DHS said,
"If there were to be any charges, they'd come from law enforcement. Our only action is ordering the child care facility closed until the health department's investigation clears the facility as safe."

The state said the center will not be allowed to reopen until the health department provides written documentation that the center is clear and free of E. coli or any other pathogen possibly present. WVLT called the daycare Thursday and an employee said they had only part of the daycare called the baby house closed. Then, someone believed to be the site director said they had no comment.

On Thursday evening, Tennessee Department of Human Services representative Sky Arnold said that the department had issued a safety plan that required Kids Place Inc. Millertown Child Care Center to close Tuesday evening amid concerns about E. coli.

Arnold continued,

"Thursday it came to our attention the child care center had not, in fact, ceased operations throughout the entire facility. TDHS representatives informed the center that no child care operations are to occure anywhere on the property."

Arnold said that Kids Place was cooperating with the order. Additionally,

TDHS is "in the process of reaching out to child care providers in the Knox County region to assist efforts to find available child care options for parents while Kids Place Inc. remains closed."

Melissa Allen is a parent of both a four and ten year-old that attended Kids Place. The Knox County native said she got notification Wednesday about the outbreak. She still brought her four year-old daughter to daycare Thursday. She said

"I told her 'bye' and 'see you later' and everything was fine. I dropped her off. The atmosphere was still positive. "

Allen only had positive things to say about the facility and added

"[The owner] really felt like she had it under control. I can say she's been operating this place for years now and I really don't doubt her decision, really."

On Wednesday, Dr. Martha Buchanan with the Knox Co. Health Department said about five cases were not directly linked to raw milk, and possibly came from a daycare that has some animals. The health department said the daycare is shut down and the kids are all at home.

Health officials Tuesday evening said they are advising against drinking raw milk or any other unpasteurized products from French Broad Farm at this time and to throw any current supply out, due to a possible E. coli contamination.

The health department released a statement saying most of the children affected in the outbreak drank raw milk from the local cow-share dairy. KCHD said French Broad Farm is not currently operating, so exposure to animals or milk from the facility is no longer an issue.