44 Kaiser hospital staff members infected in COVID-19 outbreak, 1 worker dies

A worker in the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente San Jose (Calif.) Medical Center has died after a COVID-19 outbreak in which 44 staff members were infected, hospital officials told NBC Bay Area Jan. 3.

The woman, a registration clerk in the emergency department, died because of complications from the virus and was one of the staff members who tested positive, the officials said. Kaiser Permanente confirmed her death in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review.

Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center is investigating the outbreak after 44 emergency department staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1, Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, said in a statement shared with Becker's Hospital Review.

Ms. Chavez said the cases may be tied to an air-powered, inflatable costume worn by a staff member on Christmas Day, and that contact tracing is underway.

"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. "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."

Ms. Chavez described the air-powered costume as "holiday themed" and said the hospital is investigating "whether the costume, which did have a fan, was a contributing factor," The New York Times reported.

In light of the outbreak, the hospital is prohibiting these devices, and it is reinforcing safety precautions among staff, including physical distancing and no gathering in break rooms, no sharing of food or drinks, and mask-wearing, said Ms. Chavez. She said the emergency department is also being deep-cleaned, in addition to the cleaning protocols already in effect, and healthcare workers will be offered weekly COVID-19 testing.

According to Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, which is part of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, nearly 40,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers in Northern California have received COVID-19 vaccinations, with more continuing daily. The hospital told NBC Bay Area some of the infected healthcare workers received their first dose, but they would not have been expected to have full protective effects at the time of exposure.


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