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California hospital fined over Covid outbreak traced to inflatable Christmas costume

Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center was fined $43,000 by Santa Clara county health authorities for not immediately reporting a Covid-19 outbreak.

A California hospital is facing a potential $43,000 fine from county health officials for alleged delays in reporting a Covid-19 super-spreader event linked to an inflatable Christmas tree costume.

Healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente on Tuesday denied any delay in reporting the Covid-19 cases connected to a Christmas party at its San Jose Medical Center's emergency department.

Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Jose, Calif.
Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Jose, Calif.Google Maps

"The suggestion that we are anything other than forthcoming with our reporting is inaccurate," Kaiser Permanente said in a statement to NBC News, adding it has "maintained consistent communications with multiple state and local agencies regarding COVID-19 cases at our facilities."

The fine issued on last Tuesday is $1,000 for each delayed report of a positive case, but since early January the number of infections connected to the Christmas event has ballooned from 43 to over 90.

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As of Tuesday, county health officials said that they have counted 77 staff and 15 patient cases connected to the event. One staff member died.

The Santa Clara County Department of Public Health said it was was unaware of the first 43 cases until news reports last week.

"Kaiser Permanente failed to report any of these cases in the County’s Worksite Case and Contact Reporting Portal as it is required to do by the Public Health Order issued on Oct. 5," the department said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Kaiser Permanente said the inflatable Christmas tree costume — while still not definitively linked to the outbreak, county health officials clarified — was an innocent gesture that "only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during what is a very stressful time."

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The organization said they are reviewing the Santa Clara County citation and will respond before the deadline on Friday.

According to the California Department of Public Health, Bay Area hospital intensive care units are over 95 percent full as of Tuesday.

In recent days, as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases rapidly approaches 3 million in California alone, Governor Gavin Newsom has received increased criticism for a slow rollout of Coronavirus vaccines in the state.