At least 44 emergency staff members at Kaiser Permanente in San Jose tested positive for COVID-19 within the past week, according to the hospital, and on Sunday it was confirmed one of those workers had died.
According to the statement released by Kaiser on Sunday, an employee working in the emergency department on Christmas Day died as a result of complications from COVID-19.
Employees at Kaiser confirmed that the woman who died was a registration clerk in the emergency department. Her co-workers described her as an "absolutely wonderful woman."
All 44 people infected worked in the ER on Christmas Day, officials confirmed.
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The hospital is investigating whether an incident in which a staff member appeared briefly in the emergency department on Christmas Day wearing an air-powered costume with a fan may have led to air droplets being spread around the hospital.
“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 during this time period based on CDC and public health guidelines,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The hospital says it will no longer allow air-powered costumes at any facilities.
Kaiser said the employee wearing the costume did not have symptoms at the time, and was only trying to lift spirits during a stressful time. But one ER employee who asked not to be identified said there may be another reason for the outbreak.
“They were doing respiratory treatments inside a room that they’re not supposed to,” the employee said.
The hospital said that the emergency department is undergoing a deep cleaning, and officials said that the hospital is open and safe for patients to receive care.
But the employee said that Kaiser’s claim that they were doing a deep-clean of the department after the outbreak was untrue.
“That’s a lie,” the employee said. “All they did was come in and do a deep cleaning of the small break room. They didn’t do the other parts of the emergency department and there was no deep cleaning.”
The hospital is working to quickly test all emergency department employees and doctors for the virus, and anyone who tests positive or who has symptoms will quarantine per Centers for Disease Control guidelines, hospital officials said.
However, several healthcare workers told NBC Bay Area that they don’t feel the hospital is doing enough to protect them. Some staff members said that regular testing was not being done.
“Even as the vaccine is beginning to be provided in our communities, given the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community we are all still vulnerable and it remains critical for everyone to continue using the methods to help protect ourselves and others – especially masks, hand washing, avoiding gatherings, and social distancing,” the statement read.
Kaiser said some of the healthcare workers infected had received their first dose of the COVID vaccine, but they would not have been expected to reach immunity when the exposure occurred.
The hospital has responded to comments made by employees that it wasn't taking the proper safety measures against the virus, saying that it's following CDC protocol and testing all emergency department staff.
The hospital said that the deep clean is ongoing and that patients who may have been exposed are being contacted by telephone.
On Sunday, the Santa Clara County Health department issued a statement on the outbreak.
“The Public Health Department is aware of and currently investigating a significant COVID-19 outbreak associated with the Kaiser San Jose Emergency Department," the statement read. "Kaiser is responsible for complying with all applicable public health orders and work safety regulations, including those issued by Cal/OSHA. This includes timely reporting of cases and all required follow-up."