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Inflatable costume may be linked to San Jose hospital’s deadly COVID outbreak


SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) – A scary situation in the South Bay where one of at least 44 employees testing positive for COVID-19 has died after being exposed to the virus at Kaiser Permanente’s San Jose Medical Center.  

All of those impacted, including the person who died, is said to be staff members in the emergency room.

The investigation is on-going but it appears this was a well-intentioned effort to spread some holiday cheer that ended up spreading the infection instead. 

Kaiser Permanente officials have confirmed that an employee working in the emergency room on December 25th at San Jose Medical Center has passed away as a result of COVID-19 complications.  

The announcement comes after Kaiser said over the weekend that 44 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.  

All may have been exposed to the virus by another employee dressed in an air-powered holiday costume designed to spread holiday cheer.

A Kaiser officer confirmed that the staff member, who was not showing any symptoms of being infected with coronavirus, briefly appeared in the ER wearing what’s been reported as an inflatable Christmas tree costume.

At this point, it’s unknown if that moment of levity accidentally caused the outbreak.

In a statement, Kaiser said:

“A staff member did appear briefly in the emergency room on December 25th wearing an air-powered costume. Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely innocent as the individual had no covid symptoms and only sought to lift spirits during what is a very stressful time.

Obviously, we will no longer allow air-powered costumes at our facilities.  At the same time, we are taking steps to reinforce precautions among staff, including physical distancing and no gathering in breakrooms, no sharing of food or beverage and masks at all times.”

Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley infectious disease expert, says it’s speculative at this point but possible.

“To keep the costume blown up, it had to have air pressure within it and it most certainly wasn’t perfectly sealed so there would be air leaking out of it of a variety of directions and it could’ve spread the virus into the air. The individual, I understand, is without symptoms so he still could’ve spread the virus that way, we do know that people with symptoms and just be cool for they become symptomatic are shutting the most viral particles,” Dr. Swartzberg said. 

Citing privacy, Kaiser did not release further details about the person who died other than to confirm the person was a hospital employee.  

No patients are said to be involved this far and all those who tested positive have been sent home. 

Kaiser said staff who received a first dose of vaccine less than 10 days ago would not be expected to have reached immunity when the exposure occurred.  

Dr. Swartzberg says it’s a reminder as vaccines are rolling out across the country that people still need to be cautious because there’s still a lot we don’t know.

“People have to realize that the vaccine does work, it does protect you from getting infected. What we don’t know, is it going to still protect you from still being a carrier of the virus and being able to spread it to other people. And we don’t know yet how well it’s gonna protect you and for how long. The message today, if you get vaccinated you need to conduct yourself in terms of protecting yourself and protecting others. You have to conduct yourself in the same way as if you hadn’t been vaccinated,” Dr. Swartzberg said. 

Contact tracing is underway and others who may have been exposed are being tested.  

The emergency room area is also undergoing a deep cleaning. 

Kaiser says air-powered costumes are now banned at their facilities and that this incident is a very real reminder that the virus is widespread and is often spread by those without symptoms, so we must all continue to be vigilant.

There are currently more than 2 million coronavirus cases in California. Over 26,000 people in the state have died of the virus.

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