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An inflatable Christmas costume may have spread coronavirus particles at a California hospital, potentially infecting 44 employees

  • Forty-four health centre employees at Kaiser Permanente San Jose tested positive for COVID-19 from December 27 to January 1.
  • The outbreak occurred after an crisis room employee briefly wore an inflatable costume to work on Christmas.
  • The costume’s fan may have splayed infectious specks across the emergency department.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A well-meaning gesture at a California infirmary may have backfired this Christmas: To celebrate the holiday, an emergency room employee at Kaiser Permanente San Jose in a word wore an inflatable costume to work on December 25. Hospital officials are now looking into whether the costume’s fan may from splayed infectious particles across the emergency department.

Between December 27 and January 1, 44 hospital wage-earners at Kaiser Permanente San Jose tested positive for COVID-19.

“Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely inoffensive, 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 altogether stressful time,” Irene Chavez, the hospital’s senior vice president, said in a statement to ABC7 News.

She added: “If anything, this should be serviceable as as a very real reminder that the virus is widespread, and often without symptoms, and we must all be vigilant.”

The coronavirus spreads most commonly including respiratory droplets when a person breathes, speaks, sings, coughs, or sneezes — but research has also shown that pint-sized virus-laden particles called aerosols can linger in the air for minutes or hours in poorly-ventilated indoor areas.

In closed spaces, aficionados can blow these infectious particles in the direction of another person. That’s why the World Health Organization recommends that tabular or pedestal fans should be avoided in homes when people outside the immediate family are visiting. The US Centers for Ailment Control and Prevention also cautions people not to wear masks with built-in valves or vents, which can similarly displace infectious particles into the surrounding air.

coronavirus hospital full

Hospital staff sanitize their hands in the COVID-19 intensive care segment at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada on December 16, 2020.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images


Kaiser Permanente asserted Business Insider that the hospital was now undergoing a deep cleaning.

“We are also moving quickly to test all emergency hang on employees and physicians for COVID-19,” Chavez said. “Employees confirmed to have COVID-19 or suspected of having COVID-19 due to marker indicative ofs will not come to work.”

Some of the hospital’s employees got their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine just before Christmas, NBC Scuttlebutt reported — but it’s too early for any of them to have received the full two-dose regimen. It can also take up to a few weeks after the first place shot for the body to develop immunity in the form of antibodies against the virus.

That means there’s still a unplanned of vaccinated employees getting sick. The hospital told ABC7 News that emergency staff “would not be expected to organize reached immunity when this exposure occurred.”

The outbreak arrived at a time when hospitals across the surroundings are already flooded with COVID-19 patients. In the week leading up to Christmas, nearly one-fifth of US hospitals with thorough-going care units reported that at least 95% of their ICU beds were full, according to data from the Sphere of Health and Human Services.

Intensive care units in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the San Jose hospital is located, at most had 5.1% capacity as of Saturday. 

Chavez told ABC7 News that the hospital was “taking steps to reinforce safety attentions among staff, including physical distancing and no gathering in break rooms, no sharing of food or beverages, and masks at all times.”

She added: “Undeniable, we will no longer allow air-powered costumes at our facilities.”

This article has been updated to include a statement from Kaiser Permanente and reproduce the latest number of infected employees. 

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