An air-inflatable costume, worn by a staff member over Christmas to spread holiday cheer, may be to blame for a coronavirus outbreak that has infected dozens of workers at a hospital in San Jose, Calif., Said a spokesperson for the hospital.
An employee wore the costume “briefly” in the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Jose, spokeswoman Irene Chavez said in a statement. The hospital opened an investigation after 44 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus between December 27 and Friday, she said.
Inflatable costumes are usually powered by a battery-operated fan that sucks air into the suit, helping it keep its shape. Among the most popular are the T. rex and sumo wrestler models. Some costumes cover the wearer’s face while others leave it exposed.
Ms Chavez declined to say what kind of pneumatic suit the hospital worker was wearing, but described it as “vacation-themed.” As part of its response to the outbreak, she said, the hospital was investigating “whether the costume, which had a ventilator, was a contributing factor.” Air-powered suits have been banned, she said.
It was not known how long the employee had worn the costume in the ER. The hospital declined to say if any patients had been infected.
It was also not known if any of the infected staff received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but experts said it takes at least two weeks for the vaccine’s protective effects to show. . According to the hospital, 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 accidental, as the individual had no symptoms of Covid and was only seeking to boost the morale of those around him during a very stressful time Ms. Chavez said of the costumed worker.
The emergency department will be thoroughly cleaned, Ms. Chavez said, and in addition to protocols already in place, employees will be offered free weekly tests.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is spread primarily by respiratory droplets and can “sometimes be spread by airborne transmission” of larger droplets and smaller aerosols when people “cough, sneeze, sing, talk or breathe ”.
Dr Jose-Luis Jimenez, aerosol expert and professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder, helped investigate the choir epidemic in Skagit County, in which at least 53 infections and two deaths have been attributed to 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 the result of airborne transmission.
“It’s kind of like the choir,” Dr. Jiminez said. “There is no way to infect 43 people when you wear a costume other than by airborne transmission, by aerosols, because you are inside a costume and you cannot touch objects or infect. of people by surfaces.
The hospital is in Santa Clara County, California, where there have been 73,493 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to a New York Times database. There have been 2,397,923 confirmed cases in California.
More than 21,000 people were hospitalized in California on Jan. 1, according to the Times database, a 26% increase from two weeks earlier.