Inflatable Costume May Have Led to 43 Hospital Staff Having COVID—Official

An inflatable Christmas costume may be to blame after dozens of staffers at a California hospital tested positive for COVID over the past week.

An official from Kaiser Permanente San Jose Emergency Department has confirmed that 43 staffers had contracted the disease between December 27 and January 1, after an employee "briefly" entered wearing an "air-powered costume" on December 25.

"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," Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager of the center said, San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"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 continued. Officials said all of its health care workers will now be offered weekly testing for COVID-19.

In addition, blow-up costumes will "obviously" no longer be allowed in the hospital's emergency department, which is undergoing deep cleaning and remains open, Chavez said. The exact type of inflatable costume worn was not immediately clear.

According to a hospital statement obtained by ABC7, the center used contact tracing to notify and test any staff and patients who were potentially exposed to the disease. It said employees suspected of having COVID will not come to work until cleared.

Face coverings are required in all hospital areas and officials said common spaces, such as break rooms, will now have stricter limitations on staff gathering numbers.

Officials said that nearly 40,000 Kaiser Permanente health care workers in the state had already received vaccinations for COVID, but did not say if that included anyone who is believed to have been infected during the December 1 to January 1 time period.

Staff in the department were first to be vaccinated. The hospital said they "would not be expected to have reached immunity when this exposure occurred," ABC7 reported.

The hospital said: "Even as the vaccine is beginning to be provided in our communities, given the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community we are all still vulnerable and it remains critical for everyone to continue using the methods to help protect ourselves—especially masks, hand washing, avoiding gatherings, and social distancing."

The California Department of Public Health said Saturday there had been 53,341 newly recorded cases in the state on January 1, bringing the total to 2,345,909 positive cases. There have now been 26,357 deaths in the state at the time of writing, figures show.

COVID Hospital
Clinicians for a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Providence St. Mary Medical Center amid a surge in COVID-19 patients in Southern California on December 23, 2020 in Apple Valley, California. Mario Tama/Getty