An air-powered, inflatable costume worn by an employee for Christmas to spread the Christmas cheer could be responsible for a coronavirus outbreak that infected dozen of workers at a San Jose, Calif. Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.
A clerk wore the costume “briefly” in the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, spokeswoman Irene Chavez said in a statement. The hospital opened an investigation after 44 employees tested positive for the coronavirus between December 27 and Friday.
Inflatable costumes are usually powered by a battery-powered fan that draws air into the suit and helps it keep its shape. T. rex and sumo wrestler models are among the most popular. Some costumes cover the wearer’s face, others leave it exposed.
Ms. Chavez declined to say what type of air suit the hospital worker was wearing, but she described it as a “vacation theme.” As part of its response to the outbreak, she said, the hospital was investigating “whether the costume, which had a fan, contributed”. Air-powered costumes have been banned, she said.
It was unclear how long the employee had been wearing the costume in the emergency room. The hospital declined to say if patients were infected.
It was also unclear whether any of the infected employees received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but experts have said it will take at least a couple of weeks for the vaccine’s protective effects to kick in. 40,000 Kaiser employees in Northern California received the first dose of the vaccine.
“Any exposure, if it had occurred, would have been completely innocent and quite random as the individual had no Covid symptoms and was only trying to lift the mood of those around them at a very stressful time,” said Ms. Chavez, the costumed worker.
The emergency room will be thoroughly cleaned, Ms. Chavez said, and in addition to the protocols already in place, staff will be offered free weekly tests.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is mainly spread via respiratory droplets and can be spread “sometimes by airborne transmission” of both larger droplets and smaller aerosols when people “cough, sneeze, sing, speak or breathe” .
Dr. Jose-Luis Jimenez, aerosol expert and professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder, helped investigate the Skagit County choir breakout, which resulted in at least 53 infections and two deaths from a singing practice in Washington state. In an interview on Sunday, he said the outbreak among staff at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center was most likely due to airborne transmission.
“It’s like in a choir,” said Dr. Jiminez. “There is no way you can infect 43 people while wearing a costume, except through airborne transmission or aerosols, since you are in a costume and cannot touch objects or infect people through surfaces.”
The hospital is located in Santa Clara County, California, which has confirmed 73,493 coronavirus cases, according to a New York Times database. 2,397,923 cases have been confirmed across California.
According to the Times database, more than 21,000 people were hospitalized in California on January 1, a 26 percent increase from two weeks earlier.