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COVID-19 infections in Kaiser outbreak linked to costume near 100

The number of people infected with COVID-19 due to a Christmas outbreak linked to a costume at the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center’s emergency room is approaching 100.

Kaiser said Wednesday that 74 employees who worked Dec. 25 and 15 “related to Dec. 25” have tested positive. An employee who worked in the emergency room on Dec. 25 died as a result of COVID-19 complications.

“Out of respect for patients’ privacy and family, we have no further information to provide,” Kaiser said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this terrible loss. We provide support to our employees in this difficult time.”

When the first infections were reported to staff at the hospital’s emergency room, a spokesman for the hospital told the New York Times that an inflatable Christmas tree suit briefly worn by an employee may have exacerbated the spread of the virus.

Costumes like this work via a battery-powered fan that draws air into the suit and gives it shape. The costume may have scattered drops through the air.

“Any exposure, if any, would have been completely innocent and completely unintentional as the person had no COVID symptoms and only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during a very stressful time,” said Kaiser San Jose Senior Vice President Irene Chavez told the Associated Press in early January.

Kaiser said Wednesday that the incident is still under investigation. “In collaboration with our infectious disease specialists, we continue to investigate the outbreak to determine the potential causes and use contact tracing to inform and test all victims, based on the CDC and public health guidelines,” Kaiser said. “Given the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community, it is often difficult to locate the specific exposure that leads to COVID-19 infection.”

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