The COVID-19 outbreak at a San Jose hospital linked to an inflatable Christmas tree costume has now spread to at least 60 people.
Kaiser Permanente has said it is investigating if the outfit worn by an emergency department employee on Christmas Day might have caused the spread that has killed one.
‘This was not a Kaiser Permanente sponsored or approved activity,’ the spokesperson said in a statement.
‘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.’
Kaiser had reported 44 cases potentially linked to the costume but revised the figure late Tuesday. All 60 workers now testing positive were in the ER on Christmas Day, The Mercury News reports.
The hospital is now probing whether the air-powered costume, which had big eyes, a smile, and a bright red nose may have fanned the spread of virus-laden droplets.
DailyMail.com has contacted the hospital to find out what has happened to the costume since it was linked to the outbreak.
California is so swamped by the coronavirus pandemic that the state has ordered hospitals with room to accept patients from others that have maxed out on intensive care beds.
The giant inflatable Christmas tree costume linked with spreading COVID-19 to at least 43 California hospital staff, killing one, has been pictured on the wards
A colleague at the hospital who was working the morning of the incident told Mercury News the woman had wanted to provide some ‘innocent’ festive relief to her coworkers and patients.
‘She was just spreading joy,’ the nurse who did not want to be named told the outlet.
The nurse said her colleague had surprised everyone at the central nurses station at the emergency department by appearing dressed in the costume sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. December 25.
‘You just see this Christmas tree coming bounding down towards you, and it makes you smile. It was a brief moment of levity, and you get back to working,’ she recalled.
The nurse said she stayed six feet from the woman in the costume in line with social distancing guidelines and that she was wearing a mask and a face shield alongside everyone else in the emergency department.
She told how the festive gesture had been ‘spur of the moment’ and insisted that previous reports of a party or gathering of people around the woman in the costume were incorrect.
‘[They] painted us in a light of being irresponsible when we’ve been working our butts off to save lives. We’re not seeing our families. It portrayed us as not caring about our community,’ she said.
She added that all staff wear masks and ‘don’t hug’ and that no one wore Santa hats in the ER this year in case they got in the way of PPE.
But on December 27, two days after the brief merriment, the nurse said she started showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Many colleagues working Christmas Day also began feeling ill and showing symptoms around the same time, she added.
The woman wearing the costume had no symptoms on Christmas Day but later also tested positive.
A nurse has leaped to the defense of her colleague who wore a Christmas Tree costume now linked to a COVID-19 outbreak that killed one and infected 44 at a California hospital (above)
The unidentified hospital employee wore the novelty air-powered inflatable costume on the wards at the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center on Christmas Day
NBC Bay Area news, which first reported the incident, said the deceased was a registration clerk described by her co-workers as an ‘absolutely wonderful woman.’
They quoted one employee as saying the outbreak may actually have been caused by staff carrying out respiratory treatments in a room not designed for that purpose.
The coronavirus is primarily spread through respiratory droplets emitted when people breathe, speak, sing, cough or sneeze.
Although hospital employees have begun to receive their Covid-19 vaccines, it takes around two weeks after the first dose for the body to have enough antibodies to fight off infection, and both vaccines authorized so far in the US require a booster shot.
Kaiser Permante said that staff who received their first dose less than 10 days ago would therefore not be expected to have reached immunity at the time of the exposure.
The hospital offered employees expedited testing, carried out a deep clean of the emergency room and adjusted its protocols, including ending large gatherings in break rooms, it said.
The nurse added that she was struggling to get her head around the idea that the costume could have sparked the cluster of cases.
‘It just doesn’t seem completely plausible that it was all her because it was just a moment in time compared to what we deal with all the time,’ the nurse said.
‘How could it be that if this occurred at 9 in the morning that people were being infected at three o’clock in the afternoon? Could this happen? Yes. But was it tragically coincidental or something else? We just don’t know.’
A view of a Kaiser Permanente staffer getting vaccinated on December 14 above. Many of those infected had already been given the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before the outbreak
Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager, Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center said in a statement that it was ‘a highly unusual situation involving a well-intentioned staff member acting on their own without advance notice or approval’.
‘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,’ she said.
‘Obviously, we will no longer allow air-powered costumes at our facilities,’ Chavez said.
‘At the same time, we are taking steps to reinforce safety precautions among staff, including physical distancing and no gathering in break rooms, no sharing of food or beverages, and masks at all times,’ the hospital said, as per ABC7.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and infectious disease expert at UCSF said the costume was likely ‘acting as the mover of air in a huge way. It’s like a fan that’s kind of multidirectional and random.’
The hospital is currently conducting contact tracing to determine if other staff, patients or visitors may have been exposed to the virus.
It has also introduced weekly testing for its staff.
The hospital’s emergency department is still open and safe to receive patients and all areas of the department are undergoing a deep cleaning, while those infected go into isolation.
Nearly 40,000 health care workers at Kaiser Permanente have already received COVID-19 vaccines and more are anticipated soon.
Los Angeles continues to see hospitalizations rise day after day, setting a new record Tuesday with almost 8,000 hospitalized and more than a fifth of those in ICU. The county, which accounts for a quarter of California’s 40 million residents, has more than 40% of the state’s 27,000 coronavirus deaths.