Coronavirus outbreak at hospital may be tied to Christmas costume

inside a hospital

A San Jose, Calif., hospital said an inflatable costume worn by a staffer on Christmas may be tied to more than 40 coronavirus infections at the facility.

Irene Chavez, a spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, said in a statement that 44 staff members have tested positive for the virus between Dec. 27 and last Friday, according to The New York Times. She said the “holiday themed” costume was powered by a fan that sucked air into it and that hospital officials are investigating whether the costume “was a contributing factor.”

The hospital did not disclose whether any patients were infected or how long the staffer wore the costume in the hospital’s emergency department.

While front-line health care workers have been prioritized for the coronavirus vaccine, the shot is given in two doses over 30 days and the first can take at least two weeks to take effect. It was unclear whether any of the staffers who tested positive had received the vaccine, but about 40,000 Kaiser employees throughout Northern California are believed to have received the first dosage.

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

She added that the hospital will deep-clean its emergency department and offer free weekly testing to all employees.

“It’s kind of like the choir case,” Jose-Luis Jimenez, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, told the Times, referencing a case in which 53 infections were traced to a choir practice in Washington state. “There is no way to infect 43 people when you’re wearing a costume other than through airborne transmission, through aerosols, because you’re inside a costume and cannot touch objects or get people infected through surfaces.”

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