California COVID outbreak, including hospital employee’s death, traced to visitor in inflatable Christmas costume

A well-intentioned holiday pick-me-up has turned fatal after an employee at Kaiser Permanente’s San Jose hospital died from a case of COVID-19 traced back to a visitor in a blow-up Christmas tree costume.
Hospital officials confirmed the death in a statement provided to this news organization.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this terrible loss,” a Kaiser spokesman said in the statement. “We are providing support to our employees during this difficult time.”
Hospital officials initially reported an outbreak of 44 infections traced back to the apparently impromptu Christmas celebration, but this would be the first fatality associated with the informal Dec. 25 visit. All 44, including the employee who died, had been working in the emergency department that day, according to NBC Bay Area, which also described the outbreak’s first victim as a woman who worked as a registration clerk in the department.
A nurse at Kaiser San Jose who worked that day and asked to remain anonymous said the person in the costume spent 10 to 15 minutes walking around the emergency department.
“That was it,” she said. “We were all working and so it’s really traumatic for us to see our coworker really bear this responsibility. She simply tried to lift our spirits.”
She said a female emergency department staff put on the Christmas costume sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Christmas day, but she did not see her take off the costume. The nurse also did not know whether the woman in the costume continued to work at the hospital that day.
The nurse said it may seem odd for people outside looking in, but “it’s how we cope.”
“It’s horrific to work in this pandemic,” she said.
The nurse who spoke with the Bay Area News Group said she is sick and has contracted a “mild” form of the virus. She said she is aware of other people in the department who have severe symptoms, but she doesn’t believe any are hospitalized.
“I saw her bouncing down the hallway in the suit and it made me smile,” the nurse said. “She was just trying to lighten the mood.”

This is the air powered costume an employee wore in the Emergency Dept.of Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center Xmas day to spread cheer. Turns out employee unknowingly had covid , now 43 employees have covid .Kaiser investigating if costume blower helped spread the virus. pic.twitter.com/DLLi8z5e2T
— Marianne Favro (@mariannefavro) January 3, 2021

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No patients are believed to have been infected but officials said this weekend that they were conducting additional tests for anybody who had been exposed. Employees confirmed or suspected to have the virus are asked to stay home, and the medical center’s emergency ward has undergone a deep cleaning, officials said.
The costumed worker believed to be the spreader of the virus was not identified beyond a being a fellow employee of the hospital. However, their visit was not sanctioned by the hospital, officials said.
Because COVID-19 is transmissible through the air, hospital officials are investigating whether the inflatable nature of the costume and its air-circulation machine could have led to greater spread of the infectious particles.

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