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100+ Coachella shuttle drivers reported being sick from food poisoning

Riverside County health officials are continuing to investigate the apparent food poisoning that led to the hospitalization of at least 46 shuttle bus drivers who were shuttling attendees to and from the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Jose Arballo Jr., spokesperson for the county's health department, told News Channel 3's Samantha Lomibao on Tuesday that they've had more than 100 drivers report being sick. 46 were assessed at local hospitals.

“Some of those people who didn't go to the hospital apparently didn't feel they needed to, but they probably sought their own medical attention. We want to, we would like to speak to them as well, not just those that were hospitalized,” Arballo said.

Investigators with the Riverside County departments of public health and environmental health are collaborating to determine what caused people to become ill and find out how many people were affected. Officials said they hope to quickly speak to as many people as possible who attended the dinner – those who got sick and those who didn’t – to narrow down the cause.

"Our objective, if we can, is to find the source of the illness," Arballo said in response to News Channel 3 inquiries on Monday. "Part of this is also interviews with those who became ill to try and get a good idea of what might be the source of the sickness."

The investigation is expected to take a few days to a week. The name of the catering company that served the bus drivers has not been released.

While the exact source of the food poisoning remains under investigation, Arballo confirmed a pasta dish and pre-packaged salad were served Sunday night.

“We did do some inspections of the facilities when food was served beforehand. As far as I know, everything went well there," Arballo added, "It's important to know, just as much what people who didn't get sick, what they ate and what they did, as to those who did get sick.”

Health officials said many of those who got sick live outside Riverside County and some even out of the state. Officials believe they may have sought medical care from a hospital or medical provider in another jurisdiction. Riverside County officials have alerted health jurisdictions throughout Southern California and the California Department of Public Health about the incident so potential patients can be interviewed.

“We're getting a list of those employees. So hopefully, between the medical records and the employee contacts that we get, we'll be able to reach quite a number of those that were at the dinner,” said Arballo.

“This could involve hundreds of interviews, but it is important to gather as much information as possible so that we can determine what happened and try to prevent it from happening again,” said Kim Saruwatari, director of Riverside County Public Health.

As News Channel 3 first reported yesterday, dozens of drivers who were shuttling attendees to and from the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were sickened by food poisoning early Monday morning.

Reports began coming in shortly after midnight after subcontracted drivers ate at the county fairgrounds in Indio, Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department told News Channel 3. The drivers had nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms.

"We received multiple 911 calls for shuttle bus drivers in two locations that were experiencing signs and symptoms that are consistent with an acute foodborne illness," said Cal Fire incident commander division chief Bryan White. "All nonlife-threatening, all consistent with an acute foodborne illness, nausea, vomiting, those types of symptoms."

Officials say the catering was unaffiliated with the festival but have not yet identified the provider of the food.

First responders went to multiple locations across the valley to help affected bus drivers and took them to local hospitals.

"We had county fairgrounds, we had the shuttle bus lot, and then various hotels and pickup and drop off points throughout the valley," said White.

News Channel 3 reached out to local hospitals to find out how many patients were admitted from this incident. There were 46 patients in total:

  • Eisenhower Hospital: 23
  • Desert Regional Medical Center: 12
  • JFK Memorial Hospital: 11

“Our public safety agencies and event organizers constantly train for incidents like these so that we are prepared to respond to, triage, and treat patients, and transport as soon as possible,” said White.

Cal Fire said no festival-goers were affected. All of the illnesses are non-life-threatening.

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Samantha Lomibao

Samantha joined KESQ News Channel 3 in May 2021. Learn more about Samantha here here.

Jesus Reyes

KESQ News Team

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