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Inflatable costume could be behind Covid outbreak at California hospital

At least 44 staff members tested positive for the virus after a staff member wore an inflatable costume on Christmas to cheer up patients.

A hospital in California is facing a coronavirus outbreak that killed one employee and infected dozens of staff members — a wave that might have stemmed from an inflatable costume worn on Christmas to cheer up patients.

One employee, whom the hospital has not publicly identified to respect the family’s privacy, died due to Covid-19 complications, the hospital said in an email Monday. No other details were immediately available.

At least 44 staff members tested positive for the virus between Dec. 27 and New Year’s Day, according to a statement from Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center on Saturday. The hospital’s emergency department has been deep-cleaned, and all infected staff members are isolating.

The hospital is looking into whether the fan on an "air-powered costume" could have spread droplets after a staff member briefly wore it in the emergency department on Christmas Day.

“Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely innocent, and quite accidental, as the individual had no COVID symptoms and only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during what is a very stressful time,” the hospital said.

Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center will no longer allow such costumes in its facility, the statement said.

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

Emergency department employees at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center who were able to get a Covid-19 vaccine were only given their first inoculation days prior to Christmas Day and would not have reached immunity by the time of the incident.

None would have had their second booster shot by Christmas Day.

“During this period, even as vaccine is beginning to be provided in our communities, it is crucial that everyone continue to protect themselves and each other by continuing to use masks, hand washing, avoid gatherings, and practice social distancing,” the hospital said.

None of the staff members who tested positive will return to work, though the hospital said it has been engaging additional staff as part of its preparations.

California hospitals have been overwhelmed with casesin recent weeks amid a new surge of the virus, which brought record numbers of daily deaths and hospitalizations.

The state’s Bay Area has only 5.1 percent availability in its intensive care units. Southern California is beset with hospitalizations, with no available beds in many of its hospitals as staff create makeshift units in gift shops or pediatric wards.

California has recorded 2,345,909 confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 26,000 deaths, according to numbers the state’s public health department released Saturday.