Inflatable Costume Blamed On COVID Outbreak That Infected 44, Killed 1

Liz Carey

San Jose, Cal. ( – An inflatable Christmas tree costume intended to cheer up patients and healthcare workers at a California hospital instead led to a COVID-19 outbreak that infected 44 staff members, killing one.

Employees of Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center Emergency Department tested positive for the coronavirus between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1, Irene Chavez, senior vice president for the medical center said.

“An employee working in the Emergency Department at San Jose Medical Center on Dec. 25 has passed away as a result of COVID-19 complications,” the company said in a statement. “Out of respect for patient privacy and the family, we have no additional information to provide. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this terrible loss. We are providing support to our employees during this difficult time.”

The employee had been working on Christmas Day, when another employee came into the emergency room wearing the air-powered costume. Officials with Kaiser Permanente said any exposures would have been accidental.

“The individual had no COVID symptoms and only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during what is a very stressful time. If anything, this should serve as a very real reminder that the virus is widespread, and often without symptoms, and we must all be vigilant,” Chavez said in a statement.

The hospital is investigating whether or not the costume’s fan spread the disease through airborne respiratory droplets exhaled by a person infected with the virus.

A nurse in the emergency department, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Mercury News that her co-worker dressed in the costume and walked through the department for about 10 to 15 minutes between 9 and 10 a.m. on Christmas Day to cheer up her co-workers.

“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.”

The nurse said she harbors no ill will towards the co-worker.

“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.”

The hospital has since banned inflatable costumes.

No patients were thought to be infected, but the hospital is continuing to test anyone who had been exposed. The hospital’s emergency department also underwent a deep cleaning, officials said.

While some of the staff members were among those who received the first dose of the vaccine, officials did not believe them to be immune yet, and officials noted that workers should receive two doses in order to be immune.

Kaiser Permanente said nearly 40,000 of its health care workers in Northern California have received the vaccinations, and more are anticipated soon.

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