New coronavirus strain is about 70% more transmissible: expert

University of Washington Chief Strategy Officer of Population Health Dr. Ali Mokdad reacts to the new strain of coronavirus reaching the United States.

Dozens of emergency room staff members at a hospital in San Jose, Calif., tested positive for coronavirus last week in an outbreak that may have been spread by an employee who wore an "air-powered costume" in the department on Christmas Day, hospital officials said.

Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, told local news stations in an emailed statement that 43 staffers in the emergency department tested positive between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1.

"We will ensure that every affected staff member receives the care and support they need," the statement said, according to KTVU-TV.

Chavez said one of the infected staffers had appeared briefly in the department wearing an inflatable costume to spread cheer during the holidays, the station reported.

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

Chavez said the incident should encourage vigilance and serve as a reminder that the virus is widespread and those infected often don’t show symptoms.

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The center remains open and the emergency department is undergoing a deep-cleaning in addition to the cleaning procedures already in effect for the pandemic, the hospital said.

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