Inflatable Christmas Tree Costume Suspected in 44 COVID-19 Infections at California Hospital

A COVID-19 outbreak in a California hospital may have been caused by an employee's festive inflatable Christmas tree costume. According to a report by USA Today, a staffer at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center wore a costume that included a fan to keep it inflated on Christmas day. After 44 coronavirus cases were traced back to the medical center, experts fear the fan may have circulated the virus.

The unnamed staff member reportedly wore their Christmas tree costume on Dec. 25, and 44 infections were reported from Dec. 27 to Jan. 1. From that group, one person has passed away due to complications with the virus. So far, it has not been concretely established whether the fan costume played a role in these infections — and it may never be — but the hospitals senior vice president, Irene Chavez said that the staffer did not get approval to wear the costume before coming to work.

"Any exposure, if it occurred, would have been completely innocent and quite accidental," Chavez said. "The individual had no COVID symptoms and only sought to lift the spirits of those around them during what is a very stressful time."

Chavez also called this "a highly unusual situation involving a well-intentioned staff member," and said that safety precautions are now being revised to specify that air-powered costumes are not allowed in the workplace. Staffers are getting a general revisit of all major safety precautions.

"Using our infection proven protocols, we are investigating the outbreak and using contact tracing to personally notify and test any staff or patients who were exposed," Chavez said. She also acknowledged the casualty of this particular outbreak — a hospital employee who was working in the emergency department on Christmas Day.


"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this terrible loss," Chavez said. "We are providing support to our employees during this difficult time... We will ensure that every affected staff member receives the care and support they need. The health and safety of our patients, employees and physicians is our highest priority."

California is currently seeing some of the worst pandemic conditions in the country, with cases spiking out of control and hospitals strained to find space and resources for all of their patients in need. Public health experts are urging Americans everywhere to avoid unecessary crowds, wear face masks when necessary and seek a coronavirus vaccine as soon as its available in their community.