January 28, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Patients test positive for coronavirus in Kaiser San Jose Christmas outbreak

An outbreak of the novel coronavirus among employees at Kaiser’s San Jose Medical Center has now spread to patients, 15 of whom tested positive, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department said Wednesday. The number of staff members infected has also grown since last week from 60 to 77. One staff member has died of COVID-19 complications.

Kaiser spokeswoman Hilary Costa disputed some of the county’s case count, saying 74 employees who worked in the emergency department on Christmas Day tested positive. Three cases may include employees not involved in that outbreak, Costa said.

Kaiser does not dispute the county’s patient count.

The outbreak is believed to be linked to an employee who went to the hospital on Dec. 25 in an inflatable Christmas tree costume. Experts previously said it’s possible the costume’s battery-powered fan could have spread aerosols into the emergency room.

Santa Clara public health officials previously fined the hospital $43,000 for failing to report an initial 43 staff cases to the county in a timely manner. The penalty levied for each violation is $1,000, the county said.

Employers are required to report positive coronavirus cases to the county public health department within four hours of finding out an employee has tested positive. Despite affirming in October it would comply with the reporting requirements, Kaiser failed to do so, the county told The Times in a statement.

“The County was not informed of the cases until they were confirmed in a press statement issued by Kaiser Permanente” on Jan. 3, a county spokesman said.

Costa said the suggestion Kaiser is “anything other than forthcoming with our reporting is inaccurate,” adding that the company is reviewing the citation and would respond to Santa Clara health officials by Friday.

Costa declined to say if the asymptomatic staffer wearing the Christmas costume visited elsewhere in the hospital, as Kaiser’s “investigation is currently focused on” the emergency department on Christmas Day.

The San Jose facility was fined $85,000 last November by Cal/OSHA for seven violations including for failing “to investigate exposure incidents where employees were exposed to confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19,” state records show. Kaiser also did not “notify employees who had significant exposures to COVID-19 cases and suspect cases” nor did it “provide post-exposure medical services to those employees,” according to state records.

Kaiser disputes these citations and plans to file an appeal, Costa said.

A separate Kaiser medical center in Antioch was fined $56,000 late last year by Cal/OSHA for four violations, including for failing to immediately report to the state at least two employees who were hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, according to agency records. Costa said the citations stem from allegations early in the pandemic, some in regards to personal protective equipment guidance that “has evolved as we grappled with national shortages.”

Santa Clara officials said the outbreak in Kaiser’s San Jose facility does not involve the more contagious strain of coronavirus from the United Kingdom. Public health officials are probing if the U.K. strain is in L.A. County.